By Brianna Rhodes, Special to the AFRO
In response to the announcement of Facebook bringing on civil rights activist and crisis management expert, Laura Murphy to lead a civil rights audit last week, civil rights attorney at Outten & Golden, Peter Romer-Friedman is providing more insight on the lawsuit against Facebook and its alleged discriminatory practices.
Romer-Friedman is one of the lawyers who is litigating the lawsuit on Facebook for race and age discrimination. He and other lawyers are representing workers and other individuals who were denied information about economic opportunities, as well as the Communications Workers of America.
Romer-Friedman is disappointed to see former civil rights lawyers defend companies like Airbnb and Facebook because it is part of the companies tactics to self audit themselves when they are embroiled in discrimination scandals.
“I think that Facebook is improperly trading on the good will of progressive civil rights lawyers who have done good in the world to protect Facebook’s discrimination and try to white wash it,” Romer-Friedman said. “I think that that’s really sad that Facebook is trying to co-op progressives to give it cover for discrimination that its known about and has consciously chose not to stop.”
In October 2016, ProPublica revealed that Facebook’s ad targeting categories included groups of people that could be excluded from being in the population that advertisers send ads for various economic opportunities, such as housing. The excluded groups included African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American.
In response to the story, a class action lawsuit was filed in a federal court San Francisco alleging that Facebook had violated 18 different provisions of federal and state law by excluding people of color from having access to employment, credit ads and other economic opportunities.
Romer-Friedman said that since the Civil Right Movement, Congress and many states and localities have said that is is improper and illegal to recruit people and advertise to people in a way that discriminates based on factors like race, gender, age and familial status.
“I mean frankly just the idea that people would be segregated and classified based on their race, for the purpose of sending a job ad or a housing ad is not just legally wrong, it’s also morally bankrupt,” Romer-Friedman said.
In response to ProPublica’s story, Facebook informed the courts, government officials, and civil society that it had created a system for eliminating racial categories. Unfortunately ProPublica found out that was untrue and revealed that Facebook’s system was wholly ineffectual.
In response, Facebook temporarily suspended the ability to target ads by excluding racial groups.
Just seven months ago in December, the Communications Workers of America along with other workers filed a class action lawsuit on age discrimination. They challenged that major employers have used Facebook to send job ads that exclude workers from having access to the ads.
Facebook responded saying that unlike race, age discrimination in job recruiting “is an accepted industry practice.”
Also, fair housing organizations filed a lawsuit against Facebook in March in the Southern District of New York that alleged that Facebook had unlawfully approved housing ads that excluded people from receiving ads. People could be excluded based on their race, disability, gender, and familial status. This act is not only in violation of the Fair Housing Act, but New York law.
In addition, Facebook has been under fire for its role in letting alleged Russian accounts to influence the 2016 presidential race.
Romer-Friedman believes Facebook is hiring civil rights lawyers to come in to give them a passing grade or to minimize the evaluation of the harm that has been caused. In his view, a company that has real leadership will step up to the plate when it gets sued and try to address what’s happened right away.
“This is an ongoing problem that is being investigated, but we don’t need to wait for a civil rights audit,” Romer-Friedman said. “Facebook could make these changes today. That’s really the message I want to send is that they’re using their sophisticated techniques to try to influence the media to look the other way.”