Window to the Law: How to Avoid Illegal Marketing

Watch this month’s Window to the Law video to learn how to steer clear of violating the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on discriminatory marketing practices in your social media posts.

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Window to the Law: How to Avoid Illegal Marketing: Transcript

We have all seen them – Facebook advertisements mysteriously targeted to our individual preferences. In this Window to the Law, I will discuss the growing fair housing concerns related to the use of social media platforms to advertise real property, and the recent lawsuit against Facebook. I will also arm you with best practices for how to responsibly use social media to advertise real property while avoiding a fair housing violation.

By now, we all realize the power of social media. So, it’s no surprise that Facebook, which offers the ability to market to its over 2 billion users, has become an extremely popular and powerful tool for real estate professionals to market real property.

However, Facebook’s advertising platform has recently come under scrutiny when this past March 2018, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and three of its member organizations, brought a federal lawsuit against Facebook. The suit alleges that Facebook’s advertising platform enables landlords and real estate brokers to exclude families with children, women and other legally protected classes from receiving and viewing rental and sales ads, all without consumers ever knowing they have been excluded.

Leading up to the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs created dozens of housing ads, which successfully passed Facebook’s full ad submission and review process, despite the fact that the Plaintiffs intentionally excluded the ads from being sent to families with children and women – both protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.

  • The Fair Housing Act prohibits both publishers and advertisers from targeting housing ads based on any protected class. And, as exemplified by the lawsuit, the concern is that Facebook permits advertisers to target ads, based on categories that either explicitly, or when combined together, result in the exclusion of protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.
  • In addition to this lawsuit, others are voicing concerns about Facebook’s advertising platform – including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which recently re-opened an investigation into Facebook’s ad platform this past April 2018.

Because the Fair Housing Act covers both publishers and advertisers, it is important that real estate professionals avoid discriminatory marketing practices when using social media platforms, such as Facebook, to advertise real property listings or their services.

To guide your use of social media, consider the following best practices:

  1. First, create an advertisement plan prior to running your ads, and be sure the plan includes marketing to a broad demographic.
  2. Second, avoid using any available ad filter based on a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, which includes race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.
  3. Third, be familiar with your state and local fair housing laws, which often include additional protected classes, such as age and sexual orientation.
  4. And, fourth, consider engaging an experienced digital marketing firm or individual knowledgeable about social media advertising platforms.

Continue to harness the power of social media advertising to grow your business and serve your clients, but remember to do so while remaining keenly attuned to your fair housing obligations.

Thank you for watching this month’s Window to the Law.