In November 2016, Facebook put limits on its ethnic-affinity targeting options after ProPublica reported that advertisers were using the filters to discriminate against certain groups of people. A year later, ProPublica conducted a follow-up report which found that Facebook advertisers were still able to avoid anti-discrimination laws on the platform. At the time of this report, Facebook disabled brand from being able to use the multicultural affinity targeting for exclusion targeting. They also stated that they were working to certify that advertisers understood Facebook’s anti-discrimination policies.
Now Facebook have announced the removal of 5,000 targeting options. This comes amid an investigation from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, who filed a complaint last week alleging Facebook had enabled discriminatory housing practices through its targeting options. Facebook have not revealed the individual options they are removing. But it is likely to include the examples from the complaint filed against them.
Facebook have told BuzzFeed News, “We’ve been building these tools for a long time and collecting input from different outside groups.” Also stating that their decision to remove the targeting options is not at all related to the HUD investigation.
Essentially Facebook is looking to make it safer for users of its platform. The removal of these targeting options aims to prohibit advertisers in the housing, employment and credit-related field using them to keep their ads from certain ethnic or religious groups. In their news post they stated that, “While these ad targeting options have been used in legitimate ways… we think minimizing the risk of abuse is more important. This includes limiting the ability for advertisers to exclude audiences that relate to attributes such as ethnicity or religion.”
Along with the removal of these targeting options Facebook are set on educating advertisers on their policies. For over a year, they have required advertisers they identify as offering housing, employment or credit to certify their compliance with their non-discrimination policy. In the coming weeks, they will be rolling out this certification to all US advertisers within the Ads Manager tool. To continue advertising on Facebook you will be required to complete the certification. It is designed to demonstrate the difference between acceptable ad targeting and ad discrimination. Over time this will all be extended to Facebook’s other tools and additional countries.