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Facebook’s Democracy: “Safe & Civil” Advertising in a Sea of Policy Change

NB: Tiger Pistol does not condone nor promote the utilization of targeting for discriminatory purposes.

Facebook policies exist to keep advertising “safe and civil”, driving the social network’s mission of connecting the world via a positive user experience. But when Facebook continues to make swift, reactive changes based on public outcry, it’s hard to stay in the know of what their policy actually stands for, and what it means for advertisers.

 

Should we be a little frightened?

On a macro level, one could view Facebook as a governing body. Patrolling the millions of active users in the U.S. is a feat in itself; when things go awry, a new policy is encoded and we’re back to being ‘protected’. When Facebook gets slapped with a complaint, a lawsuit, or even brought to court in front of the Senate, they quickly create a new policy or update an existing one, sometimes making it more difficult to advertise. And a trigger-happy Facebook is a little frightening - similar to Trump, Facebook’s reactions and policy changes have been swift, reactive, and garnered the same negative media coverage. Trump gets enough airtime elsewhere, so let’s get back to why we’re here...

 

What changes were made?

The policy changes started to pick up speed after the October 2016 ProPublica report, essentially broadcasting that Facebook enables advertisers to publish campaigns with exclusionary racial targeting parameters, specifically with regards to employment, housing and credit. While Facebook didn’t fully admit wrongdoing in 2016, it firmly stated Facebook would first “automatically disable the use of ethnic affinity marketing for certain types of ads” and carefully scrutinize all ads using “ethnic targeting”. A year later, after second ProPublica report went public, Facebook directly responded to an obvious violation of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Fair Housing Act of 1968, and rolled out the Non-Discrimination Policy, more fondly known as the “Employment, Housing and Credit Opportunities” compliance error.

To be clear, advertisers have always utilized racially-biased inclusionary and exclusionary targeting, that’s nothing new – even Facebook’s Head of Multicultural tried to make a case. But this wasn’t right because it was Facebook, and users weren’t happy. All of a sudden, Facebook Ads were not “safe and civil.”

The policy has had a few iterations, with the most recent change appearing quite abruptly in August this year. Facebook decided to remove “over 5,000 targeting options to help prevent misuse.” Again, keeping their advertising “safe and civil” by promoting a positive advertising atmosphere. I guess that’s what happens when HUD files a complaint against you.

 

How do the changes play out for advertisers?

In their April 2018 statement, Facebook specifically states, “a business's success depends on finding the right customers.” How is an advertiser to be successful if they can’t find or target their potential or existing customers because of a policy that now prohibits them to do so?

Hopefully our example below provides some helpful insight into how the policy changes may impact your advertising, and what you can do to still drive meaningful results from Facebook.

  • You’re a Latina realtor searching for potential new clients and want to launch a campaign in Spanish to speak to directly to your target audience. Your selected audience is to target Spanish and potentially English-speaking Latinos in your area (parameter: Hispanics - US (All)) and you’re all set. Campaign: published.
  • Bad news: your campaign will be immediately disapproved. Under the Non-Discrimination Policy, your vertical falls under “Housing” and is not acceptable under the new rules.
  • Good Decent news: You can still target by Spanish-language, albeit narrowing your audience and decreasing your potential reach, but still allowing you to publish your ad and be seen by some, not all, of your target audience.

While the changes are certainly designed to protect users against discrimination, has Facebook actually done a disservice to businesses that rely on cultural affinity targeting to get in front of prospects? Thankfully, Tiger Pistol is here for our customers and can navigate those tricky waters. Our team is dedicated to learning, adapting and strategizing our client campaigns following every new policy change. We’re here to help!

 

Analissa Moreno is the resident bilingual Social Specialist for the Managed Services team in Austin, TX. She fulfills for Tiger Pistol in English and in Spanish.

Coming Soon: The Power of The Pixel by Chris Mayer.

 

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