Facebook turns to artificial intelligence to prevent advertisers from discriminating

The social network has a three-pronged plan to stop advertisers from discriminating based on race.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Thibault Camus
CREDIT: AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Facebook unveiled a new plan for preventing advertisers from discriminating Wednesday that emphasizes education and artificial intelligence.

The company announced a three-fold plan Wednesday in response to a ProPublica report in October that found advertisers could limit which Facebook users saw their ads based on race or ethnicity. Facebook immediately turned off the feature after receiving public criticism.

In a blog post announcing its latest changes, Facebook said it has strengthened language in its anti-discrimination policy, created a new section for advertisers to learn about federal anti-discrimination laws, and implemented an AI-powered enforcement tool that picks out problematic ads.


“When an advertiser attempts to show an ad that we identify as offering a housing, employment or credit opportunity and either includes or excludes our multicultural advertising segments — which consist of people interested in seeing content related to the African American, Asian American and US Hispanic communities — we will disapprove the ad,” Facebook wrote.

Additionally, Facebook will require advertisers posting ads for housing, employment, or credit to certify they are complying with the company’s anti-discrimination policies.

The new plan targets key points of criticism, namely that Facebook advertisers may have been running afoul of the federal Fair Housing and Civil Rights Acts, and overly relied on harmful stereotypes by excluding ad recipients based on demographics.

Facebook said it collaborated with advocacy groups, members of government—including the Congressional Black Caucus—and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to shape the new policies.

“We believe in the power of our advertising products to create opportunities for people from all backgrounds, so we are committed to working with these groups toward that goal,” the company wrote.