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  • This week Facebook announced it is removing 5,000 ad targeting terms that could potentially allow for bias against different religions, races, and cultures.

    If you’re not sure what ad targeting is, it is a strategy for advertisers to reach certain customers based on demographics, psychographics, behavior, and interests. Simply put, when advertising using Facebook paid ads, you have a plethora of options to create campaigns that target your most valuable customers ranging from zip codes and marital status to interests such as “Latin America” or “Medicare”.

    While Facebook does not categorize people by their race or ethnicity, advertisers could target people “interested in” certain cultures. For example, a person interested in “Passover” could be Jewish. Under bad practice, a person could use these targeting options to discriminate against Jewish people by not showing them ads for housing, jobs, or educational opportunities.

    So why would this happen?

    Advertisers must have some sort of strategy to get their ads to the most valuable customers whom will end with a conversion. Businesses are paying to get their ads to the right people, so typically they exclude certain segments from seeing their campaigns to avoid serving ads to unnecessary or redundant audiences.

    Although excluding certain audiences can be a very useful tactic, Facebook has received scrutiny due to the tool’s ability to discriminate. By excluding someone interested in “mobility scooters” or “child care”, advertisers could potentially prevent disabled renters or working parents from seeing their ads.

    This isn’t a subject that has been tread on lightly either. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) filed an official complaint against Facebook for violating the Fair Housing Act by allowing landlords and home sellers to use its advertising platform to engage in housing discrimination.

    The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing transactions including print and online advertisement on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.

    According to the press release HUD distributed, Facebook’s platform violates this act by enabling advertisers to:

    • display housing ads either only to men or women;
    • not show ads to Facebook users interested in an “assistance dog,” “mobility scooter,” “accessibility” or “deaf culture”;
    • not show ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “child care” or “parenting,” or show ads only to users with children above a specified age;
    • to display/not display ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in a particular place of worship, religion or tenet, such as the “Christian Church,” “Sikhism,” “Hinduism,” or the “Bible.”
    • not show ads to users whom Facebook categorizes as interested in “Latin America,” “Canada,” “Southeast Asia,” “China,” “Honduras,” or “Somalia.”
    • draw a red line around zip codes and then not display ads to Facebook users who live in specific zip codes.

    This isn’t the first time either. The discriminatory misuse of its advertising product has been on Facebook’s radar since at least 2016, when ProPublica published an investigation on how the tech giant enabled advertisers to exclude specific groups based on race and gender, according to Gizmodo. Facebook was again found guilty of enabling this troubling practice at the end of last year—another ProPublica investigation found it was still letting housing ads on the service effectively exclude black, Jewish, and disabled users—after the company said it would no longer allow it.

    Facebook has reportedly denied that the removal was in response to the HUD complaint. In Facebook’s recent blog post about the removal of potentially discriminatory ad targeting options,  “While these options have been used in legitimate ways to reach people interested in a certain product or service, we think minimizing the risk of abuse is more important.”


    Facebook is constantly updating its platform to better cater to users and improve user experience. They plan to share more targeting updates in the coming months as they continue to refine they tools for people and businesses.

    In an effort to underscore the difference between acceptable ad targeting and ad discrimination, Facebook is requiring a continuing education certification for all advertisers. In order to continue advertising on Facebook, all advertisers will be required to complete the certification.

    From Facebook to Google, all advertising platforms are always evolving and as a digital marketing agency, we always strive to communicate and apply these industry updates to all our clients to ensure we are strategizing effectively.

    If you have any questions about increasing your leads, ROI, and valuable customer base through social media marketing or Google Ads, give us a call for a free consultation!

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