Many businesses rely on Facebook Ads for targeted advertising and marketing campaigns. Facebook's self-serve ad system makes it simple to create targeted audiences for any business. However, highly targeted ads aren't legal in some situations, and advertisers could be breaking the law if their campaigns are discriminating against certain groups. Last week, Facebook announced new changes for housing, employment, and credit advertising to make it harder for advertisers to violate regulations unintentionally.
Back in March of this year, Facebook reached a settlement where the company said it would make significant changes to combat discriminatory ads on the platform. Since then, the social media giant introduced multiple changes to the ways advertisers set up their ad campaigns for certain industries. Their latest change builds on these earlier efforts by creating a separate system for ads that are about employment, housing, and credit/financial products.
As Facebook explained in a post at the end of August, “If you are in or want to reach people in the US with ads that offer housing, employment or credit opportunities, you must now select the corresponding Special Ad Category in Ads Manager or your ad will not be able to run. These ads will not allow targeting by age, gender, ZIP code, multicultural affinity, or any detailed options describing or appearing to relate to protected characteristics.”
Because many Facebook Ads are created by individuals who don't know the rules about discriminatory advertising, there were many situations when ads campaigns broke the rules. For example, an employment drive that targets younger demographics may not seem like an issue. But executing such a campaign on Facebook by only show ads to people under 35 years old could be seen as age-based employment discrimination.
Similarly, ads for housing that excluded specific demographics, such as single-parent families or certain ethnic groups, would violate rules in the Fair Housing Act. And regulations prevent banks from using similar practices when advertising credit opportunity and other financial products. The rules are nuanced, and your everyday Facebook Ads user will get confused without guidance. Leaving something this complicated to the honor system was a recipe for ads being created that broke the rules.
By switching to this new system, Facebook can prevent instances of their platform being used improperly by advertisers. The ad experience on Facebook is supposed to be personalized, but it becomes a problem when only certain groups see ads for job opportunities, houses for sale, and financial opportunities.
Under the new system, ads that fall under the Special Ad Category won't be able to use Look-a-Like audiences. Instead, advertisers will create a Special Ad Audience, which is based on similarities in online behavior without considering things like age, gender, or ZIP code. Facebook created the protocols for this system in collaboration with the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Communication Workers of America.
The system also takes a lot of the pressure off marketing firms who would have to contend with clients who wanted to hyper-target audiences in a way that was probably inappropriate. Instead of having to explain why they can't do something that was possible on Facebooks Ads, they can now simply say that the platform won't allow the ad to be run in such a way.
For more recent news about changes Facebook is making to address criticisms and legal issues with the platform, read this article on a new feature to give users more control over the way their data is used.