Facebook Targeting Options Under Fire

Facebook is drawing some negative attention for its ad targeting tool that gives marketers the ability to exclude users based on their ‘ethnic affinity’. Critics of the tool say that it is racist and actually violates federal and state laws that prohibit advertisements that exclude people based on traits such as race and gender. The targeting tool essentially allows someone posting an ad to select specific race groups such as African American, Asian American, and Hispanic to exclude from seeing the ad. Although Facebook’s intention is to give advertisers the ability to exclude people who would may not be interested in the specific product or service, the criticized result is that it creates the opportunity to discriminate against people based on their race.


Facebook Defends its Position

In response to the growing criticism of their ad targeting tool, Facebook stated that race is something entirely different from ‘ethnic affinity’, and that further analysis of their policies would show that they specifically state that the tool is not to be used for discrimination purposes. Facebook also relies to the fact that exclusion targeting is a standard practice in the advertising industry, and that providing ‘ethnic affinity’ options with their targeting tool is simply playing to a strategy that most advertisers already employ. Facebook released an official statement that explained that most major brands would have multiple advertising strategies that target specific groups with particular insights, which have been identified to resonate with the characteristics of each individual group. For example, an advertiser may run an ad for a product or service that is intended to appeal to Spanish speakers, but they could also have a separate ad for the same product that is intended to appeal to another demographic. In order to make sure that their advertisements reach the right audience, advertisers will use exclusion strategies to help target their ads. Facebook defends their tool by claiming that it is simply an extension of this practice.


How Facebook Determines Ethnic Affinity

In further defense of their targeting tool, Facebook also claims that it never specifically requests information on someone’s ethnicity. Instead, they collect information from a person’s activity on the site, and use it to build a profile of their ethnic affinity. This information comes from posts that a person has interacted with including pages liked and comments or likes on other posts in their feed. Facebook argues that this prevents users from seeing ads that are targeted to large, general groups, which are often intended for majority groups, and can help prevent offended results in minority groups who are not represented by the ad’s content.


Facebook Agrees to Restrict the Use of the Targeting Tool

Although Facebook had been offering the use of its targeting tool for almost two years before it attracted much attention, the sudden criticisms and scrutiny of lawmakers has forced Facebook to make some adjustments to its use.  Facebook released a statement saying that they will prohibit the use of ethnic affinity targeting in three areas of advertisement. This includes all advertisements identified as fitting into housing, employment, and credit categories. They have also committed to making it clear to advertisers that use of ethnic affinity is not to be used for discrimination or racially based exclusion practices.