Facebook Strikes Back Against Alleged Ad Discrimination

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By Alexis Kramer

Facebook Inc. can’t be held liable for a claim alleging that it allows advertisers to unlawfully exclude groups of people from seeing their ads, the social network has argued in federal court ( Mobley v. Facebook Inc. , N.D. Cal., No. 5:16-cv-06440-EJD, motion to dismiss filed 4/3/17 ).

Facebook moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by three users alleging that the company offers advertisers tools to target or exclude users based on race, national origin and location. The plaintiffs alleged that Facebook violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law, in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The case highlights the broad protections of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, a statute that numerous plaintiffs have tried but failed to overcome in their attempts to seek relief for harms allegedly suffered as a result of content found on social networks. Section 230 of the law protects online publishers from liability for third-party content.

The company argued that Section 230 bars the claims because third-party businesses created the ads. The tools Facebook offers to target certain audiences are covered under the statute because they neither require nor encourage businesses to discriminate, the company said.

Facebook cited Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com LLC, 521 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 2008), in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a roommate-matching site requiring users to answer questions about allegedly discriminatory housing preferences wasn’t protected under Section 230 for the unlawful user responses. Facebook said that unlike in Roommates, the site doesn’t require advertisers to direct their ads away from users on the basis of race, national origin, or any other protected classification. Advertisers aren’t required to use the tools at all, Facebook said.

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP represented Facebook. Outten & Golden LLP represented the plaintiffs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at aKramer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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