Facebook puts some limits on controversial, quasi-racial ad targeting option
Facebook will reject housing-, employment- and credit-related ads from being targeted based on people's "ethnic affinities."
No, Facebook isn’t getting rid of its pseudo-racial ad targeting option. No, it hasn’t decided to prevent advertisers from using it to exclude their ads from being shown to people with “affinities” to certain ethnicities (specifically African America, Asian American and Hispanic ethnicities and none other). Instead it’s excluding a few types of ads from being targeted based on people’s “ethnic affinities.”
Two weeks ago Facebook’s ethnic affinity ad-targeting option — which identifies people who may be interested in topics specific to a certain ethnicity but aren’t necessarily of that ethnicity — caught a lot of negative attention, including from members of Congress, after ProPublica drew new attention to how the option could be used as a proxy for discriminating against people of certain races, which can be illegal if those ads are promoting things like housing or job listings.
Now Facebook has come up with a way to identify when ethnic affinity targeting is being used for housing-, employment- or credit-related ads and will reject those ads, the company announced on Friday in a blog post. And Facebook said it will be more blatant in its Advertising Policies, which brands must agree to before buying ads, that brands’ ads are not allowed to discriminate against people.
Facebook expects to have the new system in place by the end of this year and will start with shifting the ethnic affinity targeting options from the demographic targeting category to the behaviors category, according to a Facebook spokesperson.
When the system is finally in place, it won’t be impermeable. It will be like a road work section along a highway, with signs telling drivers to slow down, that penalties are doubled but that can’t physically slow down a driver until a cop pulls them over. In Facebook’s case, the system will show alerts at different points in the ad-buying process. If the Page buying the ad is categorized as a housing page, for example, when that advertiser clicks to begin creating an ad an alert will appear informing them of Facebook’s policy. Same if and when the advertiser opts to use an ethnic affinity targeting option.
If the advertiser doesn’t heed Facebook’s warnings and Facebook’s automated approval system isn’t able to recognize any violations in the ad, then the ad can still be shown to people, and it will be up to those people to recognize if the ad is discriminatory and flag it to Facebook.
Facebook also said that it’s trying to figure out how brands can use the ad-targeting option for positive ends, but didn’t provide specifics. Additionally the company said it will provide new information to inform advertisers how to keep their housing-, employment- and credit-related ads within Facebook’s new guidelines.