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Meta curtails its ad-targeting options referencing race, religion, and politics

As activists and policymakers bid good riddance to the controversial options, what other alternatives are there for advertisers?

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, will do away with Detailed Targeting options concerning “sensitive topics such as causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation”, the company wrote in its blog post. The changes will come into effect across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger from January 19, 2022, the post added. 

Advertisers used targeted ads for anti-Semitic categories and pseudoscience earlier, The Verge detailed in its post. The news website also revealed that these options let advertisers target housing, job, and credit ads by “multicultural affinity” which excluded certain races.

The decision was taken to address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers, and other stakeholders on preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options, Graham Mudd, VP Product Marketing, Ads, reasoned in the post. They expressed concerns that such targeting options “could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups”.

Mudd wrote that advertising partners have expressed concerns about these targeting options going away as it can impact the efficacy of their reach. Some of the advertisers relying on these options include political campaigns and social issue groups. 

These targeting capabilities are one of many reasons for the criticism of the company’s policies in recent times. It is a significant shift with wide-ranging implications as the company previously affirmed that it will not censor or limit ads.  

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What are the changes in the offing?

Mudd listed several examples of targeting options that will be scrapped:

  • Health Causes: Lung cancer awareness, World Diabetes Day, and Chemotherapy, among others. 
  • Sexual Orientation: Same-sex marriage and LGBT culture 
  • Religious Practices and Groups: Catholic Church, Jewish holidays
  • Political beliefs, social issues, causes, organisations, and figures

“It is important to note that the interest targeting options we are removing are not based on people’s physical characteristics or personal attributes, but instead on things like people’s interactions with content on our platform,” Graham Mudd clarified in the post.

Facebook had shied away from limiting or tinkering with political advertising on its platform earlier. Reuters estimated that the move is not expected to cause major disruptions in its revenue.

“CEO Mark Zuckerberg estimated in 2019, for example, that politicians’ ads would make up less than 0.5% of Facebook’s 2020 revenue,” Reuters wrote in its report.

Ad Controls for users

Meta said that people may still see ad content they are not interested in, which is why it is working “to expand the control that allows people to choose to see fewer ads about certain types of content”.

People can opt to see fewer ads related to politics, parenting, alcohol, and pets as of today, as explained on Facebook’s Help Centre.  

“We will be giving people control of more types of ad content, including gambling and weight loss, among others, early next year,” Mudd announced in the post.

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What are the proposed alternatives for advertisers?

Meta suggested that advertisers can use broad targeting such as gender and age in addition to the following:  

  • Engagement Custom Audiences: It can be used to get to people who have liked the page or watched videos of an organisation that appears on the News Feed.
  • Lookalike Audiences The option is a way ads reach new people who are likely to be interested in a business because they share similar characteristics to a company’s existing customers.
  • Website Custom Audiences: It targets people who have already engaged with a business or group’s website or products.
  • Location Targeting: It allows advertisers to reach people in the vicinity of a business’s brick-and-mortar store or within the radius of their shipping capabilities if they are based online. 
  • Customer lists from a custom audience: Advertisers can use the customer data with permission to provide Facebook with information about the existing customers and they match this information with Facebook profiles.

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