The legal waters are turbulent for Facebook as a recent ruling by a California state appeals court suggests that the tech giant may be taken to court over supposed discriminatory ad practices. This ruling is an offshoot of a 2020 class action case where the plaintiffs alleged Facebook was in breach of civil rights regulations. The primary contention was that Facebook intentionally left out insurance-related advertisements aimed at women and the elderly.
According to coverage, the roots of this legal confrontation can be traced back to a class action filed against Facebook in 2020. The core of the allegation was that Facebook, by leaving out specific ads, contravened laws meant to protect civil rights, particularly when it came to insurance offers for elderly users and women.
A noteworthy aspect of the recent September 21 ruling is that the appeals court reversed a prior decision that leaned on Section 230. This section typically offers online platforms a safety net from lawsuits tied to unlawful content created by users.
However, the appellate court believes there’s a compelling case to be made that Facebook knowingly allowed insurance advertisers to handpick their target audience based on age and gender, which would infringe on the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
It’s worth noting that Facebook’s ad-selection system has been in the spotlight before. In 2018, a federal lawsuit claimed Facebook was complicit in housing discrimination. By 2022, following reinforcing evidence, Facebook reached a settlement with the US government and revamped its ad system to address the issue.
The appellate court articulated that an earlier judgment erred in providing Facebook a protective umbrella under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This section typically offers websites a layer of protection against lawsuits over content from third parties.
Furthermore, the court believes there’s enough substance in the allegations to move the case forward. They opined that Facebook’s ad delivery and targeting tools might have been discriminatory and could have abetted discrimination led by advertisers.
Facebook’s ad platform, designed to allow businesses to customize ads to specific user groups, is under scrutiny. Liapes asserts that Facebook utilized an array of tools, both driven by advertisers and otherwise, which show preferential treatment to users based on attributes that are protected by law.
The sentiments of California’s First District Court of Appeal align with those presented by the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other concerned entities in their collective brief.
These bodies argue that Facebook’s purported actions are prejudicial. This is particularly concerning given the insurance sector’s history of biases against women, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups.