In 2016, ProPublica reported that Facebook’s targeting tool was being used to discriminate against minority groups by allowing advertisers to conceal housing ads from users based on an “ethnic affinity” category.
In response, Facebook took little initial action, but pledged to no longer allow advertisers to target by the “ethnic affinities” category when posting ads for housing, credit or employment.
A larger consequence was a nearly two-year-long probe by Washington State into Facebook’s micro-targeting tools, which were being used by some advertisers to conceal housing ads from users in minority groups and to limit job postings seen by users in certain age brackets. In 2018, the state’s case settled with Facebook legally pledging to not allow advertisers to exclude people on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and other protected categories.
The most recent settlement reached this March, which concluded cases brought by various fair housing groups, promises to bring about extensive changes to Facebook’s advertising platform.
- Limited targeting—housing, employment, and credit ads can no longer be targeted by age, gender, or zip code.
- New ad platform—Facebook will create a new advertising portal that housing, employment, and credit companies must use by the end of 2019. Targeting categories will be severely limited, as will the categories available for building Facebook Lookalike Audiences.
- New housing tool—Facebook will build out a tool that will allow users to view housing ads anywhere in the U.S., regardless of targeting.
- All of the above will also apply to Instagram.
Does it apply to me?
This applies to anyone posting ads for housing, employment, or credit/loans. Advertisers posting ads for any of these categories will face stricter restrictions and will find themselves on an entirely new platform by the end of 2019. Targeting users by age, gender, zip code, or other categories covered by anti-discrimination laws will no longer be allowed.
How can I prepare?
- Prioritize compliance checks to ensure ads are not violating civil rights laws.
- Create paid content that focuses on thought leadership and advice, as opposed to promotions, which can appear predatory.
- Shift efforts away from demographic targeting and toward interests and behavior targeting, avoiding “multicultural affinity” audiences.
- Consider retargeting campaigns to grow your assets outside of Facebook.
- Reevaluate your campaigns to ensure you’re adequately diversified across multiple channels.
We have roughly nine months before any of these changes go into effect, so there is no reason to rush into developing a new social strategy. Take time to reset your goals for paid social and decide how these changes to micro-targeting may impact your ability to raise awareness to your target audiences.