Facebook removes ad targeting based on health, political beliefs, sexuality

Facebook said on Tuesday, November 9, that it plans to remove sensitive ad audience targeting options based on the users’ interactions with content concerning race, health, religious practices, political beliefs, or sexual orientation.

The announcement came via Graham Mudd, Vice President Product Marketing, Ads. In a blog post, Mudd gave examples of “Detailed Targeting” options that would be discontinued from January 19, 2022:

  • Health causes (e.g., “Lung cancer awareness”, “World Diabetes Day”, “Chemotherapy”)
  • Sexual orientation (e.g., “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT culture”)
  • Religious practices and groups (e.g., “Catholic Church” and “Jewish holidays”)
  • Political beliefs, social issues, causes, organizations, and figures

If you’re currently using these in your ad sets, you’ll have to update them by March next year.

The blog post clarifies that the platform doesn’t offer advertising options based on people’s physical characteristics or personal attributes, but in fact, makes intelligent guesses based on what kind of posts we engage with.

That is certainly a debatable claim, given that the company is fielding several allegations on direct collection & reselling of individual data points to third parties.

Facebook did, however, acknowledge that the now discontinued targeting options may have been vulnerable to abuse and discrimination.

For example, if I’m a health brand without any certification but desperate to make a quick buck in the market, I may be able to exploit cancer patients or their families, and target them with ads that have false/clickbait medical claims. That will no longer be possible.

The reason for this change may be connected to complying with the European Union’s new consumer data protection laws (GDPR), which came into effect in 2018. After years of battling them, Zuckerberg’s army seems to have conceded one for the team.

Mudd said that while this will certainly affect many businesses, especially those in the health, public/NGO, and political sectors, marketers have many other options to choose from in the routinely updated targeting system, such as the following:

  • With Engagement & Web Custom Audiences, you can re-target people who have interacted with your content or website (needs FB Pixel cookie installed), and shown interest in your brand/cause
  • With Lookalike Audiences, you can expand your reach to target users who look “similar” to your current fan base, in terms of gender, age, and/or content preferences.
  • With Location based targeting, local businesses can find users in their city
  • Lastly, businesses can upload email lists and phone numbers to re-connect with users who have given them the permission to use their contact details for that purpose.

This announcement comes after a change in the company’s official tag, now trading as “Meta,” which was officially sold as a rebranding effort to align with their goals for the Artificial Reality-based Metaverse project to many.

But many critiques interpreted it as an attempt to save the company from its fallout with the public & government in recent years, after multiple incidents of breaches in privacy or security, and misuse of user data, have come out in the press.

Social platforms, in general, have been under attack for skewing political opinions and enabling parties to divide the public with inflammatory content targeted towards specific social groups.

Twitter removed political ads altogether in 2019, but Facebook has previously mentioned that it’ll not influence how politicians use its platform to reach voters.

For digital performance marketers, this story reinstates the importance of not relying on Facebook’s targeting options but instead building their own first-hand contact databases through email newsletters and other kinds of lead generation magnets/assets like PDFs, ebooks, etc.

Since this would be your privately owned data, it’ll not be much affected by any changes in Facebook’s internal advertising policies.


Published by Manik Rege

Writer | Digital Marketer | Leadership Enthusiast. Tweet to me @manik_rege

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: