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Facebook removes ad targeting based on politics, race, and other “sensitive” topics: NPR

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Facebook will no longer allow advertisers to target people with ads based on how interested the social network thinks they are in topics such as politics, religion, or race. Jenny Kane / AP hide caption

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Jenny Kane / AP

Facebook will no longer allow advertisers to target people with ads based on how interested the social network thinks they are in topics such as politics, religion, or race.

Jenny Kane / AP

Facebook’s parent company will no longer allow advertisers to target people based on how interested the social network is in “sensitive” issues such as health, race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion and sexual orientation.

Meta, which generates most of its $ 86 billion annual revenue in advertising, said it was making the “tough choice” of preventing advertisers from targeting or harming users.

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“We have heard concerns from experts that targeted options like this could be used in ways that could lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups,” meta official Graham Mudd wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

To be clear, the targeting options aren’t based on a user’s demographic or personal characteristics, but rather on whether or not they’ve interacted with content on Facebook that is related to certain topics.

The changes will go into effect on January 10th across all of Meta’s apps, including Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, and its audience network, which places ads on other smartphone apps.

The targeting options are popular with advertisers who want to reach users who have shown interest in certain topics. But this type of targeting has also been a headache for the social network – for example, when advertisers used it to show apartment advertisements only to certain people based on race and religion. (Facebook changed some of its advertising tools in 2019 after alleging illegal discrimination lawsuits in home, employment, and loan ads.)

External critics and Facebook’s own employees have put the company under pressure for years to revise its approach to ads, pointing to advertisers targeting people with tailored messages, excluding people based on proprietary characteristics, and targeting ads with anti-Semitic phrases.

But the company has so far resisted, arguing that advertising is an important part of freedom of expression – especially when it comes to political messages.

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Meta doesn’t completely do without targeting. It will still allow advertisers to target ads based on age, gender, location, and a number of other categories of interest that are not considered “sensitive”.

In Tuesday’s blog post, Mudd admitted the change will come at a cost to some advertisers, including small businesses, nonprofits, and stakeholders. You cannot use interest-based targeting to promote purposes such as lung cancer awareness, World Diabetes Day, or targeting users interested in, for example, same-sex marriages or Jewish holidays.

“This was not an easy decision and required a balancing of competing interests where there was a two-way lobby,” he wrote.

Publisher’s Note: Meta pays NPR to license NPR content.

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