Avoiding Illegal Marketing on Social Media

Avoiding Illegal Marketing on Social Media

Recently, NAR published its monthly Window to the Law video, as shown above, focusing on REALTORS®’ use of social media for advertising. Here are some tips extracted from the video on how to advertise without violating anti-discrimination laws.

Facebook Lawsuit and Discrimination

If you use Facebook to advertise, you are likely aware that Facebook allows users to target a specific audience with advertisements, excluding other users. It is the exclusion of certain users that prompted the National Fair Housing Alliance to bring a recent lawsuit against Facebook. The lawsuit claims Facebook’s advertising options allow landlords and real estate professionals to exclude families with children, women, and other legally-protected classes from seeing the ads posted by these landlords and real estate professionals. HUD also filed a complaint against Facebook raising similar allegations.

As explained in the NAR Window to the Law video, NFHA and other plaintiffs created multiple real estate advertisements and submitted them to Facebook for review. These ads were approved for posting by Facebook, despite the fact that the ads were narrowed to exclude families with children and women from being able to view the ads. The Fair Housing Act [i] makes it unlawful for a housing advertisement to indicate any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. As a REALTOR®, it is important to avoid discriminatory marketing in all forms of advertising, including social media platforms, as these platforms are so easily accessible by billions of users worldwide.

According to this week’s NAR Weekly Report, Facebook has now removed discriminatory advertisement options in response to the HUD complaint filed last week. However, the information provided herein applies to all forms of social media and is not limited to Facebook.

Best Practices

In its Window to the Law video, NAR provides the following best practices as a guide for REALTOR® use of social media:

  • Create an advertisement plan prior to running your ads and be sure the plan includes marketing to a broad demographic.
  • Avoid using any available ad filter based on a protected class, including race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.
  • Be familiar with state and local fair housing laws, which sometimes include additional protected classes, such as age and sexual orientation. Alabama’s Fair Housing Law [ii] includes the same protected classes as federal law (race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status).
  • Consider engaging an experienced digital marketing firm or individual with expertise in social media advertising platforms.
  • Comply with REALTOR® Code of Ethics, Article 10 prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

[i] Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c)

[ii] Ala. Code § 24-8-1 through 24-8-15.