Facebook is having a moment, and not one of the fun, buzzworthy moments it’d like to be having.

Facebook is having a moment, and not one of the fun, buzzworthy moments it’d like to be having.

Amid swirling allegations regarding its role in the spread of disinformation during the 2016 presidential election, Facebook became the subject of a ProPublica report that revealed that Facebook’s ad targeting had allowed advertisers to target self-described “Jew Haters,” among other racist terms and phrases.

The majority of the racist terms on Facebook were included in profiles under education and employment. This allowed advertisers to target self-identified anti-Semitic and white supremacist users with its ad buy by putting these terms in those categories.

In a follow-up report, Buzzfeed attempted to target Google ads with similarly racist content.

Google’s AdWords algorithm went a step further, actually making “helpful keyword suggestions” of long strings of derogatory racist phrases. It then allowed the purchase of some of the ads, though some were screened out as offensive.

Real estate ads have already come under scrutiny following a ProPublica piece from last fall, which showed that advertisers could use the “multicultural affinities” tool to target — or exclude — certain races from housing and employment ads.

This potential violation of both the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 led to changes in Facebook’s ad targeting that no longer allow that filter to be used in ads for real estate, credit or employment.

So what do you need to know now about each platform to ensure you are in compliance while still being able to leverage its proper ad targeting capabilities?

Google AdWords

In response to the coverage by Buzzfeed, Google disabled all but one of the offensive terms identified, as well as any ads that featured those terms.

It has given assurances that it will be more diligent in ensuring an appropriate level of oversight.


Initially Facebook removed the targeting function for education and employment to conduct an internal review and implement processes to help prevent this use of the targeting.

Much of this function has been restored at this point, so you should be able to begin using these categories for their proper purposes.

In addition, Facebook has implemented more rigorous human review to ensure that hate speech and discriminatory advertising are kept off the platform.

So what does all of this mean for your ad buy?

Remember that the rules that apply to traditional advertising also apply to online and social media advertising.

Although the sophisticated capabilities of targeted advertising can help make your marketing more effective than ever, ensure that you are not being inadvertently discriminatory.

In addition, ensure that you are using a variety of targeting methods, to prevent over-reliance on one particular element.

Geographic prospecting, niche marketing and other methods will ensure that as the impact of these abuses unfold, you will always have alternative marketing plans.

Christy Murdock Edgar is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant with Writing Real Estate in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Writing Real Estate on Facebook or Twitter

Email Christy Murdock Edgar

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