SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook has announced that it will temporarily stop advertisers from excluding ethnic or racial groups when they buy ads on the social network.

In addition to suspending its “multicultural affinity marketing” feature, Facebook will conduct an audit into how advertisers use the exclusion tool.

That audit will extend beyond ethnic and racial affinity groups to include other users, such as the LGBT community and religious groups, USA Today reported.

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote to the Congressional Black Caucus to confirm both the change in policy and the review of advertisers.

“Until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately, we are disabling the option that permits advertisers to exclude multicultural affinity segments from the audience for their ads,” she wrote.

“Facebook’s decision to disable its multicultural affinity advertising function is an appropriate action until the serious concerns associated with that feature are remedied,” said Congresswoman Robin Kelly in response.

Facebook’s action comes a week after ProPublica, a non-profit news organisation, revealed that Facebook was still allowing advertisers to buy housing ads that excluded audiences by race even though it had previously promised safeguards.

For its investigation, ProPublica bought dozens of rental ads on Facebook, but asked that they not be shown to African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, Spanish speakers and expats from Argentina.

However, according to ProPublica, each discriminatory ad was approved within minutes even though all these groups were supposed to be protected by the federal Fair Housing Act.

“ProPublica recently found that safeguards we put in place earlier this year were not as comprehensive as they should have been,” said Rob Goldman, Facebook’s VP of Ads, Growth and Solutions. “That was a failure in our enforcement. We must do better.”

Sourced from USA Today, ProPublica; additional content by WARC staff