Facebook Tries to Clean Up its Tattered Image

Suddenly in a hurry to remove discriminatory ads.

By Alex Kimani, Safehaven.com

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a discrimination complaint against Facebook (FB) on August 18 for violating the Fair Housing Act. More to the point, HUD alleged that the social network’s dizzying array of ad-targeting tools allowed landlords and home sellers to engage in discriminatory housing practices.

How? By illegally selecting the demographics that could and could not view their ads based upon color, familial status, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and/or zip code.

In the press release, HUD cited several instances where this had happened including display ads that flagged users interested in disabilities-related topics such as “accessibility”  or “assistance dog,” while others engaged in redlining–i.e. excluding recipients living in specific ZIP codes–from viewing ads.

No More Exclusion

Barely a week later, Facebook has moved with lightning speed to purge its network of discriminatory ads. The company has nixed more than 5,000 ad-targeting options from its platform to prevent advertisers from posting discriminatory ads. Nearly all targeting options in the “exclusion” category have been removed.

Going forward, advertisers will no longer be able to exclude people interested in things such as “Islamic Culture,” “Evangelicalism” or “Passover.” They will, however, still be  able to target those that are interested in those terms. Housing ads in particular fall under strict regulations because U.S. law expressly prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex and disability among other criteria.

What’s particularly striking is the speed and thoroughness with which FB has moved to address HUD’s concerns.

Understandably. The complaint was likely to trigger a formal fact-finding investigation, which might have culminated in formal charges of discrimination against the company. Whereas this marked the first time HUD has raised such charges against FB, it was not the first time the company was hearing about the issue.

In 2016, non-profit investigative group ProPublica was the first entity to raise the issue. Shortly thereafter, Facebook was hit up with a class action lawsuit by three people who accused the company of allowing advertisers to use its “ethnic affinity” option to exclude people from certain ethnicities including African-American, Hispanics and Asian-Americans from viewing their promos.

A No-Nonsense Facebook

Targeting has made Facebook the powerful ad machine it is today. In fact, there are many marketers who have used those options in legitimate ways to reach people interested in certain products and services. Unfortunately, there is always a chance that bad actors will use them to sow discourse. Case in point is the Russian Internet Research Agency which leveraged the tool to divide Americans, mostly along racial lines, during the last elections.

Facebook is now operating on a no-nonsense mode, and appears unwilling to take chances with anything that can further damage to its already tenuous public image. With mid-term elections less than 90 days away, the company has announced that it has taken down 652 pages, groups and accounts for what it has termed as “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

The company says the activity originated in Russia and Iran though the two were distinct campaigns that were not  linked. The company acted on a tip-off from cybersecurity firm, FireEye.

In unrelated incidences, FB says it has also taken down Pages, groups and accounts linked to sources the U.S. government has identified as Russian military intelligence services.

And finally in a rather China-esque move, Facebook has begun assigning a “reputation” score to users that will be used to gauge their trustworthiness. FB says it will use the algorithmic tool to monitor users who have been gaming the system by issuing fake red flags for untrue news and publications. By Alex Kimani, Safehaven.com

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  22 comments for “Facebook Tries to Clean Up its Tattered Image

  1. Rates says:

    The antidote to evil is evil. Fight poison with poison. “Legitimate use” of Facebook is an oxymoron. It’s an irony we need the Russians and the Eastern Europeans or what have you to show the world the true face of Facebook.

    • William Smith says:

      Agreed. As hard drive capacity continually expands, anything anyone puts on the internet is there *forever*. The use of any social media means giving future actors some “intelligence” advantage and inviting quite unforeseen/unpredictable circumstances in the future (historical data can be twisted and “interpreted” in many ways). “Legitimate Use” of any social media is an oxymoron. Unless you are a public entity like a brand, performer or company then there is no justifiable reason to narcissist-etize your “doings” to all and sundry. The Eastern Europeans (and Asians) are automatically (as normal operating procedure) exploiting a strategic advantage that the adversary has provided to them. You can bet that certain local three letter agencies are also doing this hammer and tongs. I suppose they are all “evil” as well as social media itself. Anyone remember MySpace?

      • 2GeekRnot2Geek says:

        If you’re not paying for it, you are the product. ; )

        All FB has ever been is data mining on an epic scale.

        And you are absolutely correct about the data being out there forever.

        I’ve never had a social media account of any kind. And I never will.

        • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

          Same here!

          And in other news, you can now sign into Ebay using Facebook. I guess you need an Ebay account as well as a Facebook one, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it possible to sign into Ebay using any other account.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          That’s one of the biggest holes in privacy protection. NEVER sign into anything by using the account of something else.

      • WishIRemembered says:

        Do you publish videos on YouTube? Your syntax sounds quite familiar.

  2. illumined says:

    I’m surprised this article didn’t mention Facebook’s recent implementation of their own version of China’s Orwellian social credit system. See, now we’re starting to see the globalists for the authoritarians they really are. I sincerely hope Big Tech goes the way of MySpace, otherwise we run the real risk of turning into a dystopian nightmare.

  3. raxadian says:

    I never have used Facebook and I hope I never will.

  4. Timothy Hagios says:

    Allow me to propose a thought experiment. Suppose that social media sites in one of those boogeyman countries were censoring posts on the grounds that they might be connected to Americans. What would you make of that? Would these sites be “cleaning up their image” in your eyes, or doing something else?

    If foreigners want to share their opinions, good for them. People should have the responsibility to evaluate an argument on its merits, not on the potential nationality of the person making it. If said foreigners present a well-reasoned argument, then we should listen to it. If not, then we shouldn’t. I am old enough to remember when we were supposed to value the free exchange of ideas.

    On a related note, not that I would ever call into question the honesty of our secret intelligence agencies, but some people might get suspicious when they notice how many of the prominent figures complaining about the alleged activities of foreign intelligence agencies have ties to domestic intelligence agencies. Case in point: Facebook, which censors allegedly foreign content with the help of the Atlantic Council, a pro-NATO think tank with ties to (who else?) the CIA.

    • Kaz Augustin says:

      Normally @Timothy, you’d have a point. However, on behalf of the Rest of the World, all I can say is that we’re utterly sick and tired of *constantly* being told how much **BETTER** the United States is than the rest of us. The shining city on the hill; they hate us for our freedoms; the bastion of democracy; the exceptional nation; separation of church and state; Founding Fathers and democracy; the US Constitution; etc etc ad nauseam.

      And yet, when the chips are down, the USA and its corporate minions have shown themselves to be nothing more than towering hypocrites. Iran has never said that it is the most democratic nation on Earth. Neither has China. Neither has Russia. Neither has any other country, besides India as “the oldest democracy (snort) in Asia”, but that’s another story.

      So, while you’re correct in a general sense, right here, right now, I say have at it. FB, Alphabet, Twitter, the US govt, deserve whatever they get from irate digital citizens.

    • L Lavery says:

      ” If said foreigners present a well-reasoned argument, then we should listen to it. If not, then we shouldn’t. ”


      If said foreigners present a well-reasoned argument, then we should listen to it. If not, then we should refute it with well-reasoned argument.

      As an old bearded bloke once said, “Better refuted than to refute”. Only by losing a debate do you win the prize. The prize being that you’ve learned something new.

    • RagnarD says:

      I don’t think “foreigners” is what the concern is about.

      The concern is about subversive agents deliberately attempting to create political and social unrest via fake news / propaganda. On the internet anyone can pretend to be anyone and they can say anything. With zero repercussions to themselves.

      It takes a LOT more effort to refute nonsense / fake news than it takes to create it.

      What a magical device FB/Snapchat/Instagram would have been for Soviet agents circa 1920 to 1970, no?

      And, as the parent of two recent High School graduates, I can tell u the dominance of the SWJ ethic on these apps gives great odds that such agents are very much at work today. And why wouldn’t they be?

      • Timothy Hagios says:

        You’re right that “foreigners” isn’t what the concern is about. But it isn’t about foreign intelligence agents, either. The idea is to use the purported threat of foreign influence to censor the spread of claims that contradict the official narrative. You know, the same thing we’re always accusing other countries of trying to do.

        All sorts of claims are spread around on the internet, many of which are accurate, and many of which are dubious. If we are to consider this a problem, I see two solutions:

        1) Just be aware that people on the internet may not be who they claim to be, and evaluate the information you receive accordingly. This is easily accomplished, doesn’t cost any money, and is consistent with the ideals of freedom.
        2) Hire digital versions of the firemen from Fahrenheit 451 to crack down on online profiles that contradict the claims made by CNN et al. This is difficult to accomplish, is expensive, and is a prime example of something that, until recently, fell into the “it can’t happen here” category.

  5. OutLookingIn says:


  6. Maximus Minimus says:

    I have seen international statistics where the internet usage by country was measured by the percentage of Facebook accounts. It’s probably such fake, paid statistics that drive the sheepfolk to Facebook.

  7. Ambrose Bierce says:

    Reclassify FB as a media company and let the chips fall where they may. This was a CIA experiment, and they have probably learned everything they came to learn.

  8. Kye Goodwin says:

    Such a short time ago most people got their news from a small number of network newscasts, news magazines, and major city newspapers. The bigger was the audience, the more careful the news source, to stay within the generally accepted social norms and beliefs of their “market”. What a change! Facebook has been able to act as if it isn’t really a source of information at all, but merely a neutral platform on which others place content. But if a major newspaper can’t publish an offensive white-supremacist letter to the editor, I don’t see why Facebook should be able to do the equivalent by hosting racist trolls.

    I have no idea where this is headed but its a very unstable, evolving situation. Maybe most of us are about to get much more skeptical. Maybe we are separating into cults, each with its own sources. Maybe governments will start to intervene, but who would trust them? I’d like it if some non-profit had the resources to monitor the net and alert us to any propaganda campaigns that anyone is funding, but of course there would have to be a whole range of monitors.

  9. 2GeekRnot2Geek says:

    Dr. Manhattan and the ghost of The Comedian!
    Sorry I couldn’t resist!

  10. ML says:

    Anytime anyone on-line mentions fb, fb gets free publicity and adds to its vast invasive database something more about that anyone and anyone’s interest.

    Most businesss keep a note of prospective customers. The differnce is that fb stalks you.

    • Oleaginous Outrager says:

      Farcebook is the opposite of herd immunity: if one person stumbles in with a FB tracker stuck to ’em, everybody gets an infection.

Comments are closed.