Facebook recently faced a legal setback when a California state appeals court ruled that it could be sued over allegations of discriminatory advertising practices. This ruling came in response to a class action lawsuit filed against Facebook in 2020. The lawsuit claimed that Facebook violated civil rights laws by not showing insurance ads to women and older individuals.
Liapes Vs Facebook
The case revolves around Samantha Liapes, a 48-year-old woman who used Facebook to search for insurance providers. The lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s ad delivery system discriminated against Liapes based on her age and gender, as it failed to show her insurance ads.
In a significant decision on September 21st, the appeals court overturned a previous ruling that had shielded Facebook from legal liability under Section 230, a law protecting online platforms from certain legal actions related to user-generated content. The appeals court concluded that the case sufficiently demonstrated that Facebook was aware of insurance advertisers intentionally targeting ads based on users’ age and gender, a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
The court also drew parallels between Facebook’s ad platform and Roommates.com. A service that, like Facebook, allowed for discriminatory practices and was not protected by Section 230. The court emphasized that Facebook does more than just distribute content. It actively shapes and develops content using its advertising tools.
Facebook history of algorithm discrimination
Facebook’s advertising algorithm has faced scrutiny for years, including a federal lawsuit in 2018 accusing the company of enabling housing discrimination. Facebook settled with the US government in 2022. Then a new ad distribution system to address housing discrimination.
This recent ruling in California reinforces the argument made by civil rights organizations. Facebook’s ad tools have facilitated active discrimination. Especially in an area with bias against women, older individuals, and marginalized groups. It signals a significant development in the fight against online discrimination. Serving as a reminder to tech companies that they are not immune from civil rights laws.
Facebook’s advertising practices have also come under scrutiny for allowing advertisers to exclude specific groups, a potential violation of federal laws prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment. The company has claimed that its policies prohibit such discriminatory practices, but concerns remain about the potential misuse of its ad targeting options.
Alternatives and opportunities
In contrast, traditional media outlets like The New York Times have implemented stringent controls to prevent discriminatory housing ads. They review all ads for discriminatory content. If they find anything containing phrases or code words that suggest bias they are immediately rejected. These practices highlight the responsibility that platforms like Facebook have in preventing discrimination.
The recent court ruling and ongoing scrutiny emphasize the importance of holding tech companies accountable. Ensuring that they do not enable or facilitate discrimination against protected groups. This case serves as a significant milestone in addressing online discrimination and upholding civil rights in the digital age.