Facebook Removes Major Targeting Options to Fight Discriminatory Advertising


Last week, Facebook announced the ability for advertisers to target their campaigns based on a user’s employer and education will be removed from the advertising platform.

The decision comes after ProPublica, an investigative reporting publication, found that advertisers could target discriminatory groups such as “Jew Haters” and “NaziParty” in their ad campaigns.

To address this, Facebook has removed these targeting fields, saying they will not be added back until the “right processes” are in place to prevent the issue.

Emphasizing its focus on building a safe community, the post ends with “we want Facebook to be a safe place for people and businesses, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to keep hate off Facebook.”

How did this happen?

In a Facebook user’s profile, there are many self-reported freeform profile fields — education and employer being two of the most prominent. These fields, along with dozens of other targeting options, are automatically fed into Facebook’s advertising platform and appear when an advertiser selects the options to target and conducts a search.

There is currently no process that prohibits users from entering offensive or inappropriate terms into their profiles, nor is there anything prevent these responses from appearing as targeting options for advertisers.

What does this mean for advertisers?

Depending on your business, the impact of this can vary.

If you’re reaching a B2B audience through your Facebook campaigns, this could potentially damage the short-term future of your campaigns, as these fields are often critical to building a strong, business-focused target audience. Building a campaign based on other targeting options, such as interests, may have less desirable results for B2B marketers since they tend to favor consumer-focused goals.

However, advertisers with existing campaigns that use these targeting options (employer and education) are still in the ad set:

But, as expected, they do not have the ability to access these targeting options to add more fields. Before Thursday, both employer and job title existed under the “Work” section.

For advertisers relying on these targeting options to round off their 2017 marketing budget (like me, *raises hand*), it may be wise to develop a backup plan.

Although the post did say the removal was temporary, Facebook did not provide a time frame for when advertisers could expect these options to return.

What does it mean for Facebook?

As Facebook continues to face discriminatory advertising and censorship issues, this discovery of user-based deception is yet another hurdle for the social network to overcome.

Facebook has added the functionality for advertisers to report a targeting option as inappropriate (see below), which is a fine first step, but a more reactive than proactive approach that’s unlikely to serve as a sustainable, sure-fire solution:

But Facebook isn’t the only tech giant facing this problem.
The day after Facebook made this announcement, BuzzFeed News released an article unveiling a similar story about Google. BuzzFeed was able to create a Google AdWords campaign targeting users who searched terms like “black people ruin everything” and “the evil jew.” The campaign was approved and active, until BuzzFeed contacted Google directly.
With both parties rely almost entirely on their algorithms to support their platforms, fully eradicating this issue seems like a daunting challenge for the digital advertising duopoly.