Ethical Targeting Online and Why Facebook Has a New Ad Setting Policy


If you are an online marketer for a Real Estate, Job Recruiting or Loan Provider’s business, you have probably come across a new error message  in your Facebook ad settings. Now if your ad contains any terms relating to these three sectors, you may be carefully scrutinised before having your ads approved.

The reason: multiple complains coming from critics, like the Congressional Black Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union against advertisements that allowed discrimination for employment or credit-related products. Both categories have their own anti-discrimination laws. Housing ads are also under scrutiny. The reason is a law which prohibits advertising indicating preferences based on race and skin colour.

Facebook allows targeting by different categories, including race and ethnicity. This makes it possible for advertisers to exclude certain audiences based on racial biases. There is no proof that such ads have been running. However the very possibility of having this exclusion is in breach with several acts like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Rights from 1968 and makes such advertising completely illegal.

What it means for advertisers? If you are part of the Loans, Recruiting and  Housing businesses, your ad copy is likely to trigger the following message before publishing:

This means that Facebook will take time to review your ad separately. Depending on your current settings it has chances of rejection due to anti-discriminatory policy breach. If you believe you are in line with these, you can ignore that and save the ad. Facebook’s reviewers will approve the ad if they see no conflict with the anti-discrimination policy.

The Expat category under Behaviours still remains active. However, if a certain Expat group is part of an exclusion, it does trigger the same message. In any case, if your ad triggered the message, it does not mean that it will be automatically rejected. It might still take a few hours until you receive feedback from Facebook.

Your business might suffer from the rule, even if you are in a different sector. For example, an educational company, which mentions student loan or salary increase after graduation in their ad copy. To save the risk of a disapproved or delayed ad, you can simply avoid words like loan, accommodation, salary with are likely to trigger the message.

Facebook recently removed the Ethnic Affinity targeting which used to be under Demographics. As Facebooks Vice President  for the U.S. public policy and chief privacy officer, Erin Egen explained “There are many nondiscriminatory uses of our ethnic-affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads,”

The whole discussion about the ethical part of targeting is still very active. Other categories like income, education level, political views are all available as targeting options in Facebook. All of them can be useful to companies with no discrimination. However, there will always be advertisers who can take advantage of the unclear regulatory system.