Social Media

Facebook is aiming to overhaul its ads.


Connor James Ibbetson, Editor-at-large

Social media giant promises to remove 5,000 ad targeting labels to reduce discrimination.

Following a spate of less than favourable press, Facebook is aiming to please activists by removing 5,000 categories from its ad targeting system that exclude certain religions and ethnic groups.

In a press release, Facebook claimed that “these options have been used in legitimate ways to reach people interested in a certain product or service” but now in a change of tactic thinks that “minimizing the risk of abuse is more important”.

Buzzfeed reported that the removed categories include “Passover,” “Evangelicalism,” “Native American culture,” “Islamic culture,” and “Buddhism.”

How do the ad categories work?

Facebook’s ‘partner categories’ allow advertisers extremely powerful reach with their adverts. The process uses data from third party sources to base adverts on users actions outside of the social media platform.

Using data in this way for advertising is quite common, but Facebook landed in hot water when it went public that this data had been used politically.

The Partner Categories allow advertisers to target people who are looking to move home, frequently buy certain products online or search for job listings and so on.

Facebook is also rolling out new commitments to advertisers. Previously, only those advertising housing, employment or credit adverts were required to sign non-discrimination policy. Now all Facebook advertisers will need to sign up before their content is visible on the platform.

It is not the first time that Facebook have been in trouble over discriminatory adverts

Despite the existing requirement, Facebook is already under investigation for enabling illegal housing discrimination by allowing companies to exclude certain people based on their interests. The Washington Post reported that the categories included things like “English as Second Language” or “Disabled Parking Permit”.

This constitutes a major violation of the Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to “refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person’s inclusion in a protected class”.

In March, the National Fair Housing Alliance led a group lawsuit against Facebook in New York for allowing its advertising tools to be used in this way.

Benjamin Carson Sr. is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He has accused Facebook of allow discrimination via its ad system.

Benjamin Carson Sr. is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He has accused Facebook of allow discrimination via its ad system.

US Housing Secretary Ben Carson has even accused Facebook of allowing this discrimination to occur through its advertising programme.

In July, following the National Fair Housing Alliance suit, Facebook signed a “legally binding agreement” that it would stop all forms of housing discrimination based on “a particular national origin, veteran or military status, sexual orientation, disability status, religion, or race.”

The promise to remove 5,000 of its ad categories won’t be welcome news to many legitimate advertisers, who rely on the system to target their ads.

As of now, this only applies to US based advertisers, with a promise from Facebook to “expand this to advertisers using our other tools and APIs, and those in additional countries, over time”’.

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