It is becoming harder to target certain Facebook groups. This is a positive thing for society. Advertisers, not so much.
Meta, Facebook's parent company announced Tuesday that it will begin removing targeting options that "relate with topics people might perceive as sensitive" starting Jan. 19, 2022. This news marks a significant change in Meta's golden goose, its advertisement business, which accounted roughly 98% of its global revenues in 2020 according to Statista.
Graham Mudd is Meta's vice-president of marketing for ads. He said that the change was made in response to concerns raised by policy makers and civil rights experts about advertisers who abuse the targeting options Facebook offers. Meta has already removed 5,000 targeting options in 2018 to stop misuse.
Mudd said that sensitive topics include causes, organizations, public figures, and people related to health, race, ethnicity, religion, politics, or sexual orientation. Among others, Mudd mentioned topics such as "Lung cancer awareness day," and "LBGT culture."
He stated that the company's policy changes did not affect users' personal or physical attributes. These options instead consider the people's interactions on Meta products like Messenger, Instagram, and Facebook.
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Mudd stated that "The decision to eliminate these Detailed Targeting options wasn't an easy one and we understand this change could negatively impact some organizations and businesses." "Some of our advertising partners expressed concern about the removal of these targeting options due to their potential to generate positive societal changes, while others are more comfortable with the decision."
According to the New York Times, some experts in digital ad-buying have stated that this will adversely impact public affairs and nonprofit groups that rely on ad targeting for funding.
Facebook has been criticized for allowing advertisers on its platform to discriminate against certain groups of people or incite violence in recent years.
ProPublica discovered that Facebook allowed ad targeting for users interested in anti-Semitic topics. These topics included "Jew hater," "How to Burn Jews" and "History about 'Why jews ruin this world'." This was done by an algorithm and not people.
In 2019, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that seven companies including Edward Jones and Capital One had used Facebook discrimination against elderly and women workers. These companies had placed job ads on Facebook aimed at young men. This meant that people over 55 couldn't see them.
The EEOC ruled the job advertisements were in violation of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Buzzfeed discovered that Facebook was advertising body armor, gun holders, and other military gear alongside misinformation and posts about the 2020 election. People who followed extremist Facebook content were shown the ads. Facebook announced that it would suspend ads that promoted weapons accessories and protective gear until President Joe Biden was inaugurated, just days after the news outlet reported the story.
Meta's policy change does not mean advertisers cannot target people on its platforms. Meta's vice president of ad marketing Mudd said that the company is committed to helping small businesses and nonprofits reach their audiences and pointed out that they still have tools at their disposal.
Mudd explained that these groups can use "Engagement custom Audiences", a feature that allows them to reach people who have liked their pages or watched their videos. To create an audience similar to your core audience, entities can use Engagement Custom Audiences. You still have options for location targeting, gender targeting, age targeting, as well as companies' email lists.
Meta announced that it will not only limit targeting but also give users more control so they see fewer ads for certain content such as weight loss and gambling.