Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to an audience in 2018.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks to an audience in 2018. (Photo: Anthony Quintano, Flickr)

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

"Using a computer to limit a person's housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone's face."

Eoin Higgins

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. 

In reporting on Thursday's decision, ProPublica reporter Ariana Tobin pointed out that HUD's decision might be based in something other than concern for people victimized by Facebook's practices. 

HUD’s suit against Facebook is an unusual decision for the Trump administration. It has frequently moved to curtail civil rights investigations. At the same time, Facebook and other social platforms have faced criticism by conservatives who allege their posts expressing political views are being suppressed.

Given that political environment and a healthy distrust of the priorities of the Trump administration, rights groups were cautious in their praise for the decision to go after Facebook for the company's behavior. 

"HUD's action today is commendable, if not overdue," said Free Press's Gaurav Larioa.

"HUD's action today is commendable, if not overdue," said Gaurav Laroia, policy counsel for the advocacy group Free Press, in a statement. 

"Companies shouldn't get rich by denying people their civil rights," added Laroia. "The case against Facebook is an invitation to fundamentally reassess the business model that facilitates and encourages these practices across way too many online platforms."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Bodycam Footage Shows Ohio Police Shooting Jayland Walker 60+ Times

"The Department of Justice needs to step in to investigate immediately," said former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner.

Common Dreams staff ·

'Impeach Justice Clarence Thomas' Petition Nears 1 Million Signatures

"He has shown he cannot be an impartial justice and is more concerned with covering up his wife's coup attempts than the health of the Supreme Court," reads the petition.

Jake Johnson ·

'Tipping Point of No Return' Feared as Amazon Rainforest Fires Surge

"Up to now, the Biden administration has only legitimized the Brazilian government's anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental agenda," said Greenpeace USA.

Jake Johnson ·

Biden Urged to Embrace Windfall Tax as Exxon Says Profits Doubled in Second Quarter

"It's time for the president to demand that Congress pass a windfall profits tax on Big Oil and use the revenue to provide rebates to consumers NOW!" wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·

Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo