Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Not Having A Good Moment

http://www.citylab.com; March 27, 2018


Hello Everyone:

It is a very lovely Tuesday afternoon.  The gusty winds have died down, leaving very clean air.  News of the day:  James Comey is not Mr. Donald Trump's homey; especially after a televised interviewed on Sunday evening with ABC's George Stefanopoulous.  Actually, he is still not anyone's homey.  The interview was in advance of the publication of the former FBI director's book Higher Loyalty, in which he chronicles his side the Clinton email investigation and his relationship with the current occupant of the Oval Office.  Mr. Comey lamely believed that re-opening the investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's email in late October 2016 would not affect the outcome of the election.  Uh, no.  He even went so far as to admit that he genuinely thought she would win.  Then he called the president "morally unfit" for office and suggested that impeachment would not be the way to go because it excused the American voter from holding the president accountable to the values of this country.  Well, Mr. Comey does have one thing in common with former President Barack Obama, a nativte about American democracy.  The book comes out today and Yours Truly is pretty sure that Mr. Trump's favorite e-commerce site (sarcasm alert) Amazon has copies on sale at a discount.  Finally, a very big congratulations to Pulitzer Prize winner Compton, California resident Kendrick Lamar for making history by being the first rapper to earn this high literary honor for his Grammy winning album DAMN. Also earning Pulitzer honors are the reporting teams from The New York Times and the New Yorker for their expos√© of disgraced studio head Harvey Weinstein's decades of repulsive behavior.  Blogger and #BloggerCandidateForum salute you all and your stellar achievements.  That said, shall we move on?

Facebook is not having a good moment--and it is getting worse.  First it was the whole Cambridge Analytics debacle which resulted in the social media giant's founder Mark Zuckerberg's two-day testimony before congressional committees. Now, Tanvi Misra reports in her CityLab article, "Facebook Is Being Sued for Housing Discrimination, Too," that Cook County, Chicago is suing the company for violating a local fraud statute (cookcountystatesattorney.org; Mar. 26, 2018; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018).  This is one a handful of lawsuits facing the social media company following the data breach of 87 million of its users allegedly obtained (nytimes.com; Mar. 18, 2018; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018) by  the analytics firm working as consultants for then Republican candidate Trump.  There is more.  Facebook is being sued on a related matter: "the use of its large troves of private user data (Ibid; Mar. 19, 2018) for housing discrimination."

The lawsuit (nationalfairhousing.org; Mar. 27, 2018; date accessed Apr. 17, 2017) was filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, arguing "that the company lets landlords and real estate brokers prevent certain protected classes from seeing advertisements of housing for sale or rent--violating the Fair Housing Act."

Lisa Rice, the president and CEO of the NFHA, told CityLab in a statement,

Amid growing public concern in the past weeks that Facebook has mishandled users' data, our investigation shows that Facebook also allows and even encourages it's paid advertisers to discriminate using its vast trove of personal data,...

Ms. Misra reports, "The plaintiff, which include three of NFHA's member organizations, cite the results of their Investingation into Facebook's ad platform in the complaint."  The members of fair housing non-profits in New York, Washington D.C., Miami, and San Antonio sent the social media company multiple listings from a fictional realty firm--"specifically seeking to make these ads invisible to users of certain genders, ages, family types, disability status, and national origins."

Fred Freiberg, the executive director of the New York-based Fair Housing Justice Center, said in a statement related by the NFHA,

Facebook's platform is the virtual equivalent of posting a for-rent sign that says No Families with Young Kids or No Women, but it does so in an insidious and stealth manner so that people have no clue they have been excluded on the basis of family status or sex...

Along with damages, the lawsuit asks the court to prevent Facebook from allowing users to continue postin listings in this manner, and "compel the company to vastly limit audience selection capabilities for its ads."

The non-profit news organization ProPublica outed these violations by publishing the conclusion of a similar investigation (propublica.org; Oct. 28, 2016; date accessed Apr. 18, 2018).  Ms.Misra writes, "At that time, Facebook vowed to do better (newsroom.fb.com; Feb. 8 2017; date accessed Apr. 18, 2018); it updated its ad policy, and vowed to police discriminatory ads better.  In 2017, ProPublica found that the promises hadn't made much of a difference (propublica.org; Nov. 21, 2017; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018): Advertisers could still exclude users,..., identified themselves as African American or Hispanic (assets.propublica.org; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018, or listed their interests as wheelchair ramps (Ibid) or Judaisim (Ibid).

Facebook responded to the allegations in a statement,

There is absolutely no place for discrimination on Facebook.  We believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.

The Fair Housing Act is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.  The landmark civil rights legislation was intended to "undo decades of state-sponsored (theatlantic.com; June 2014; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018 segregation (citylab.com; Sept. 2, 2015; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018).  However, the main component of the law--"the Affimatively Futhering Fair Housing rule--" has still not been implemented (citylab.com; Jan. 4 2018; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018).  In the meantime, housing discrimination persists like a stain upon the land.  A recent investigation (revealnews.org; Feb. 15, 2018; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018) by the Center for Investigation Reveal project determined "that people of color were still much more likely to be denied home loans than their white counterparts."  The difference between now and pre-Fair Housing Act is that discriminatory practices are more deceptive (citylab.com; June 11, 2013; date accessed Apr. 17, 2018) or, in Facebook's case, completely under the radar.

Lisa Rice told CityLab,

It is already a challenge for women, families with children, people with disabilities and other underserved groups to find housing.  Facebook's platform that excludes these consumers from ever seeing certain ads to rent or buy housing must be changed immediately.