Facebook Ad System Allows Advertisers To Eliminate Users By Race

A report found that Facebook lets advertisers leave out users by ‘ethnic affinity.’

Facebook is known as one of the global leaders of the new model for advertising, developing algorithms based on users “likes” and interests, as online advertising revenues continue to reach record numbers. However, the social network’s ad system gives marketers and advertisers the option to leave out targeted users by racial categories. More information on this has been collected from these dependable sources:

Pro Publica

Imagine if, during the Jim Crow era, a newspaper offered advertisers the option of placing ads only in copies that went to white readers. That’s basically what Facebook is doing nowadays.

The ubiquitous social network not only allows advertisers to target users by their interests or background, it also gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls “Ethnic Affinities.” Ads that exclude people based on race, gender and other sensitive factors are prohibited by federal law in housing and employment.

Here is a screenshot of an ad we purchased in Facebook’s housing categories via the company’s advertising portal:


The ad we purchased was targeted to Facebook members who were house hunting and excluded anyone with an “affinity” for African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic people.

When we showed Facebook’s racial exclusion options to a prominent civil rights lawyer John Relman, he gasped and said, “This is horrifying. This is massively illegal. This is about as blatant a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act as one can find.”

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it illegal “to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits the “printing or publication of notices or advertisements indicating prohibited preference, limitation, specification or discrimination” in employment recruitment. See more

USA Today

Facebook generates nearly all of its revenue from advertising. Key to its success: letting advertisers target very specific audiences by tapping into the extraordinary amount of data Facebook collects on its 1.71 billion users which it supplements with information purchased from data brokers. Facebook says its users cannot identify their race or ethnicity on Facebook. Affinity targeting is based on interests they have declared or Facebook pages they have liked.

Multicultural targeting is designed to make advertising more relevant and inclusive to diverse communities, Christian Martinez, head of multicultural at Facebook, said in a blog post.

“Advertising should empower you to learn about things that are relevant to you, that speak to you, that reflect you and your community. It’s also empowering to see content that validates your community as one worth reaching,” Martinez wrote.

Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, agrees. “Racial ad targeting has the potential for abuse and has the potential for great help, both for businesses and consumers,” he said. But Facebook should give housing and employment ads a greater degree of scrutiny, he said. See more

Mail Online

The way ads are targeted is based on 98 personal data points Facebook collects on members using their on-site activity, location settings and internet connection.

And ProPublic uncovered a hidden tool that lets people see how Facebook categorizes them – they found nearly 50,000 unique categories where people are placed.

Facebook states on its ads policy page that users cannot ‘use targeting options to discriminate against, harass, provoke, or disparage users or to engage in predatory advertising practices’ – although the recent findings suggest they do otherwise.

“We take a strong stand against advertisers misusing our platform: Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law,” Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook, told ProPublic. See more

Facebook has stated that multicultural advertising should be a tool for empowerment. That’s right, but how about the fact that some advertisers use this platform to racially exclude other races in their ads? The ad system has got its perks, although the disadvantages are glaring.

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