Discriminatory advertising on Facebook

It’s been a tough year for Facebook. Zuckerberg & Co. have had the unenviable task of defending the social giant against lawsuit after lawsuit, multiple privacy breaches, and facing a generally declining user base. The reasons for all of this are, of course, multi-faceted, but the platform has remained a consistently good place for advertisers to spend their marketing dollars – ROI on the platform is high, and marketers are allowed to be discriminatory on Facebook in a way they can’t be in other advertising arenas.

Wait. What?

It’s true. Well at least it was until this week. You see, Facebook never implemented rules around its ad targeting to dissuade discriminatory advertising practices, especially when it came to advertising for homes, loans, or even employment. Essentially, the ad targeting that was in place before this change allowed for very specific exclusions: Let’s say you wanted to advertise a job in Chicago – my home town. You could do that by only targeting north-siders by zip code, and excluding all south side zip codes. Tsk tsk.

So what’s changing? According to Facebook:

  • Anyone who wants to run housing, employment or credit ads will no longer be allowed to target by age, gender or zip code.
  • Advertisers offering housing, employment and credit opportunities will have a much smaller set of targeting categories to use in their campaigns overall.
  • We’re building a tool so you can search for and view all current housing ads in the US targeted to different places across the country, regardless of whether the ads are shown to you.

While this may be a step in the right direction, it feels like Facebook is constantly playing catch up when it comes to diversity in advertising. Remember back in 2016 when it was discovered that, among other things, advertisers on the platform were able to deliver content (or more importantly, not deliver content) based on ethnic affinity? That cringe-worthy episode was not that long ago, and here we are talking about a similar advertising practice that wasn’t caught when all of that happened a few years ago.

While Facebook may still be a great place to advertise and recognize ROI, I think most people would agree that continuing to allow discriminatory advertising practices is a bad thing. And for that, I’m glad of these changes.

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