Grace Hill Training Tip of the Week
HUD Announces Formal Complaint Against Facebook
On August 17th, 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a formal complaint against Facebook for violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by allowing landlords and home sellers to use its advertising platform to engage in housing discrimination.
HUD claims Facebook enables advertisers to control which users receive housing-related ads based upon the recipient’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability, and/or zip code. Facebook then invites advertisers to express unlawful preferences by offering discriminatory options, allowing them to effectively limit housing options for these protected classes under the guise of ‘targeted advertising.’
You can read HUD’s complaint here: Housing Discrimination Complaint.
The FHA prohibits discrimination in housing transactions, including print and online advertisement on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status. In past posts, we’ve covered some basic guidelines to ensure your advertisements and social media don’t violate fair housing law. But what about some of the more subtle situations – ones where you may not even realize you could be doing something that might be viewed as discriminatory?
Remember, discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to be illegal. If your words or images have the effect of discouraging prospective residents from applying to live in your community, that may be enough to violate the fair housing law.
Let’s look at an example:
Imagine your community is 80% white. You like to use real photographs from community events on social media. Because your community is mostly white, the pictures you post generally only show people who are white. You might think there is no risk of a discrimination claim. After all, your intention is not to discriminate. You are only trying to show real images of your community.
However, if the images you post have the effect of discouraging people with darker skin from applying to live in your community, you could be at risk. This could be discrimination based on color under fair housing law.
Using images in social media posts is a great way to appeal to customers. However, make sure the images you use across your social media communications show diversity. Consider all federal, state, and locally protected classes. For example, show males and females, people of different races, people with disabilities, a variety of ages, and families with and without children. Show diversity when using avatars, animated characters, and illustrations, too.
You must be just as mindful of fair housing laws when sharing information and interacting with customers online as you are when sharing information and interacting in print and in person. You are responsible for not acting in a discriminatory way, no matter what form of communication you are using.