Today, Facebook decided to give race-based targeting the boot after many (myself included) raised issue with its possibility for misuse. But wait, let’s back up a second.
As a Facebook representative explained to me ever-so-patiently back in March, you can’t target by race on Facebook. There are no tools available that allows you to check a box and reach an entirely Asian/Black/Latino audience. What you can do, however, is target users based on ‘ethnic affinity,’ which is basically the same thing.
For the record, the Facebook representative I spoke to about it wholeheartedly disagrees.
My issue with Facebook’s description sort of played out on this post, but here’s the point of note:
There isn’t a magical “I want to target African Americans” button in the Facebook ad platform.
However, you can target based on “affinity” which is essentially targeting based on things African Americans might like, comment and share on Facebook. You can also target based on location, which gives advertisers the ability to show ads only to those who might live in predominately Black, Asian, or Hispanic areas, as well as liking the same products and pages — a marketing technique that’s been around since the mid-1900s.
While there’s no 100 percent accurate way to do this on Facebook, targeting a disproportionate percentage of a single race is an incredibly easy task.
Today, Facebook is back burnering ethnic affinity, at least in part. No longer can advertisers seek to weed out (or attract) specific races when advertising housing, employment, or ads pertaining to credit. It’s not, however, disabling ethnic affinity targeting. Instead, Facebook is building a tool that automatically disables attempts to segment ethnic audiences for the above-mentioned ad types.
To be clear, there’s nothing inherently racist about marketing to specific races. It does, however, have a high potential for misuse, especially in the areas above that Facebook identified.
In a blog post this morning, Facebook said:
There are many non-discriminatory uses of our ethnic affinity solution in these areas, but we have decided that we can best guard against discrimination by suspending these types of ads,” Egan said. “We will continue to explore ways that our ethnic affinity solution can be used to promote inclusion of underrepresented communities, and we will continue to work with stakeholders toward that goal.
It’s a step in the right direct, and one that Facebook should be praised for.