'Commendable, If Not Overdue': HUD Files Charges Against Facebook for Virtual Redlining

Facebook had its own “redlining” program built into the company’s software, according to charges filed against the social media giant by the federal government on Thursday. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which brought the charges, alleges the social media giant “unlawfully discriminates based on race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex, and disability by restricting who can view housing-related ads on Facebook’s platforms and across the internet.”

HUD secretary Ben Carson said in a statement that Facebook’s advertisement parameters which allowed advertisers to tailor who saw their ads were as effective an act of “redlining”—the practice of keeping people of color out of predominately white neighborhoods—as drawing lines on a physical map was in the past.

“Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live,” said Carson. “Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

Facebook, in a statement to The New York Times, said it was surprised by the charges.

“We’re surprised by HUD’s decision, as we’ve been working with them to address their concerns,” the company said.

The department’s decision came after years of reporting from ProPublica on Facebook’s use of the advertising tactic and after a year of litigation against the practice by civil rights groups.