Facebook bans ads targeting race, sexual orientation and religion

Facebook and Instagram are to stop allowing advertisers to target users based on their history of posting, reading or liking content related to subjects such as sexual orientation, religion and political beliefs.

The social media networks’ parent company, Meta Platforms, said from January it would remove detailed targeting options that let advertisers seek out users based on their interactions with causes, organisations or public figures related to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation.

This means, for example, that advertisers can no longer pay to target people who have shown an interest in same-sex marriage or Catholicism.

In a blogpost, Graham Mudd, a Meta Platforms vice- president of product marketing, said: “We want to better match people’s evolving expectations of how advertisers may reach them on our platform and address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options we make available.”

According to research by the Tech Transparency Project, Facebook had been serving ads for weapons accessories and body armour next to inflammatory discussions in militia and “patriot” groups on the platform, even after the 6 January Capitol attack in Washington.

Meta generates 98% of its income from advertisers, who are able to target specific demographics and consumers because the company has built up profiles of its users through their online activity. Meta, which also sells adverts on its Messenger app and to third-party apps through its audience network, made $86bn (£64bn) in revenues last year. Nearly 2 billion people use the Facebook app every day.

Meta acknowledged that the move could affect political groups and campaigning organisations, many of which use Facebook for fundraising.

“Some of our advertising partners have expressed concerns about these targeting options going away because of their ability to help generate positive societal change, while others understand the decision to remove them,” said Mudd, who added that advocacy groups still had options on the platform for reaching people.

However, advertisers on Meta platforms can continue to target billions of users based on a range of options such as age, gender, occupation and location. Meta is under scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic over its record on keeping users safe following revelations by the whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has released tens of thousands of internal company documents.

In a quarterly report released on Tuesday, Meta said the prevalence of hate speech on Facebook had fallen for the fourth quarter in a row. In the third quarter of 2021, it was 0.03% or 3 views of hate speech per 10,000 views of content, down from 0.05% in the second quarter.

Source: Facebook bans ads targeting race, sexual orientation and religion

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