The Facebook Targeting Snafu

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Facebook targeting has come under fire recently by ProPublica for allowing advertisers to target based on hate speech. In response, Facebook temporarily suspended the ability to target by employer.

Yes, people were actually entering racist things like “Jew hater” as their employer or job title in Facebook. It never ceases to amaze me what people will say on social media that has their full name attached.

Facebook is working to reinstate full targeting for advertisers, but the question remains: Whose job is it to police hate speech? And, can AI and technology really understand speech well enough to carry the responsibility for editorial review?

Clearly, in this case the answer was no. Facebook is now moving to human review of the previously suspended categories.

The targeting problem created issues for countless advertisers, especially in the B2B sector. We had to shuffle priorities quickly on Monday to respond to the change. One client had just asked us to add some employer targeting to their campaigns, and we aren’t able to comply with the request. We had other clients to whom we were pitching employer-targeted campaigns, and we were scrambling to figure out what to pitch them in its place. Sure, LinkedIn is the king of employer and B2B targeting, but their high CPCs make them less attractive than Facebook. It’s a less efficient buy. And forget about employer targeting on Twitter or any other social platform.

As much a problem as the Facebook targeting snafu is for advertisers, though, it’s a greater problem for society. Targeting ads based on hate speech is a slippery slope for a mainstream platform like Facebook. They’ve already been accused of allowing foreign advertisers who allegedly hacked our election in 2016, and are working with the investigation to get to the bottom of things. No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, hacking an election is a scary proposition. Facebook had to act.

Notice that no one has gone after Google in all this (at least not yet). Nor have they gone after Twitter – despite the fact that Twitter is a haven for political and racist trolls. It just goes to show how far Facebook has come in the ad world. They’re near the top of the heap – maybe not financially, but in terms of attention.

I remember when Google was the center of attention. Seems the model has shifted. Will Facebook unseat Google any time soon? Maybe. The writing is on the wall.

What do you think about the whole Facebook targeting snafu? Did it impact you? Has Facebook become the darling of the online ad world? Share in the comments!

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  1. Let me preface my philosophical exploration with this statement – I do not condone hate speech in any way, period.
    The Internet and social media has shown the ugly side of human nature. Although we all knew this ugly side existed, we didn’t understand the depth and scale until cowards could hide anonymously and sling their arrows.

    That disclaimer said, I do wonder:
    Do we stop haters by trying to relegate them? Ignoring them? Does this make them go away or are we simply in denial? Can we stop and or squelch the hatred through open debate? Light exposes darkness kind of thing? Clearly as a business facebook would not want to be the platform for figuring this out.

    An interesting social experiment would be to have a social platform were anything goes. I guess YouTube is pretty close already 🙂 What could be learned from seeing what hatred truly exists, what people with warmth, tolerance and compassion have to say to defeat it? Would this dialogue be beneficial to anyone? Are we afraid that Good would not prevail over evil?

    In terms of advertising, defining hate speech certainly has become complicated and its not so black and white these days…. oh shit, I just did it, close my account and ban my ads.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      These are important questions, Jerry – and I don’t have any answers. I agree Facebook doesn’t want to be the arbiter of what’s ok and what isn’t. And as you say, defining hate speech is tricky, even for humans. I’m glad FB is going back to human review for these categories, but that may not be enough. Social media has brought to light what was once the seedy underbelly of human nature.

  2. Will Google Ads approve an ad with an offensive keyword like “Jew hater”? If it does and somebody learns about it, we can expect people to go after Google! I agree with you that LinkedIn’s CPC is too high. I happened to raise this point with an exec from LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. I thought he’d fob me off by telling me that LI makes its bread and butter from subscriptions so it can be choosy about how to price its ad product. I was stunned to hear his actual reply: “True. We lack the scale of Google or FB Ads”!

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Good point about Google – they won’t allow such things. FB shouldn’t either. Interesting comment by LinkedIn! I’m sure it’s true but am surprised they admitted it. 🙂

  3. In all this kerfuffle about ad targeting, one thing seems to have gotten missed out: Does Facebook continue to let a user specify “Jew Hater” as their employer? IMO, this is the crux of the problem and, unless it’s resolved one way or the other, banning ads alone may not be the solution. To play the Devil’s Advocate, some company might be running a good course to cure jingoists of their hate and it might do the world a lot of good if Facebook actually allowed that company to target its ads by “Jew hater”.

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