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Strong adverse spotlight targets Facebook in housing lawsuit

Any article discussing Facebook might reasonably lead off with reference to its size and clout. A recent New York Times piece refers to the company as an "advertising behemoth," which is certainly the case. Reportedly, Facebook users total more than two billion a month. The globe's largest social network site took in an estimated $40 billion in ad revenues last year.

Those kinds of numbers make it big news when the company is targeted as a defendant in litigation alleging its complicity in unlawful advertising related to housing. A number of organizations banding together as plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan late last month that charges the mega-advertiser with enabling housing industry actors to break the law when they fish online for prospective tenants.

By all indications, it has long been easy for landlords, real estate brokers and other housing principals to do so via their selection of preset checklists provided by Facebook.

As the Times notes, an advertiser can stress a preference for males, couples with no children and other so-called "likes."

Conversely, the elimination of various individuals and groups from consideration can be accomplished by working through an exclusion list. Critics say that creative manipulators of Facebook's lists can target their ads in such a way that women, non-whites, disabled individuals and other select demographics deemed as non-preferred will never see rental opportunities.

That is obviously illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act and related laws, and plaintiffs that include the National Fair Housing Alliance and Fair Housing Justice Center are demanding an immediate Facebook response.

Among other things, they demand that Facebook implement a plan that will preclude advertisers from making selections based on any exclusionary factor. The plaintiffs state that Facebook has failed abjectly in following through on multiple promises to do so over past months.

We will be sure to keep readers of our blog fully updated on any material developments that occur in the litigation.

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