Facebook forced to drop "feature" that let advertisers block black people, old people and women

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/07/25/multicultural-affinities.html


I worked for a small company marketing a niche product that was particularly popular with women over 50 from a particular place. Advertising to that demographic was very effective. It would have cost many multiples of what we spent to get the same results if we weren’t able to do that. I don’t see that as discriminatory. We tried advertising to men and people in other age brackets too, they just weren’t into it and it was wasted money.

There’s a big difference between a company targeting a specific demographic in order to market its products/services, and individuals actively seeking to block out certain demographics just because they dislike them for whatever reasons.


I love my state.


Yeah, but it’s a hard difference to paint exact borders around, you know?

Like, it’s pretty easy for job ads: you want qualified people, no unqualified people, and otherwise you don’t/shouldn’t care. So if you want to hire an experienced dentist, the only age-sort you should be doing is maybe “(dental school graduation age+desired years of experience) years old or older.”

But if I have a financial product I’ve designed with the needs of college students in mind… It makes sense to advertise to the ol’ 18-24, right? Doesn’t mean I won’t happily offer the product to anyone who walks in the door.

Now let’s say I have a financial product I’m targeting at high-income homeowners. Let’s also say that, rightly or wrongly, I believe that East African people in my neck of the woods are all taxi drivers. So maybe I exclude them to reduce my advertising costs. It’s not even that I hate East African people! I have some other products I do advertise to them, I just don’t have a “no taxi drivers” button available and this looks, to me, like the next best thing. Now we’re getting shady, right?

You also get into “is this Facebook ad the main/only thing bringing people to your product/job opening?” If it’s not, if most of your applicants are people coming to your website and clicking “Careers” and your advertising is just a supplement you use for the odd hard-to-fill opening, then maybe you should get a little more slack (especially if you’re advertising AGAINST your main demographic: you’re “creating the netflix of fidget spinners” but you want a real experienced logistics chief, so you’re looking for an older crowd than the folks coming to your website already, for instance.)

Not my problem, yo; that’s what the marketing department of each company is supposed to be for, to sort such ‘challenges’ out.

Actively seeking to skirt civil rights laws in order to turn a profit or to promote an agenda is wrong and unethical; full stop.


That’s why Facebook will soon stop allowing discrimination… for ads for “employment, housing, credit, and insurance.”

How long until somebody figures out a way to market something innocuous, like breakfast cereal, to white people only, and then swap out the ads for a real estate agent or a bank?


But how will advertisers deliver relevant content tailored to my interests now?


All I want to know is: how can I, as a Facebook user, more effectively block old people?

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by keeping off my lawn!


There’s a big difference between using a chef’s knife to cut up some chicken and veggies for a stew, and using that same knife to commit a mugging.

Tools are funny that way.

There’s also a difference between accurate comparisons and false equivalencies; the latter is usually an attempt at derailment or one-upmanship.

People are funny that way, sometimes.


Nicely recycled.

What the situation also speaks to is that Facebook’s tool wasn’t very thoughtfully designed in the first place. Bad actors will always latch onto any poorly thought-out tool they can get their hands on (3D-printed weapons are going to be a bonanza in that regard).

It’s the difference between between someone who comes here for good-faith discourse and someone who comes here because they’re under the mistaken impression they’re still trying to impress the judges and “win” at the regional high school debate club semi-finals (see, e.g., Ted Cruz, Newt Gingrich, and just about any capital-L Libertarian politician or pundit).


I’m old. Block all the ads!


Yeah, some people see someone else -making- a point and note it as someone -scoring- a point.

Conversation is simply not a win-lose proposition. Most things are not. If you see it everywhere, maybe it’s you?

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Doing a bait-and-switch is potentially artless enough to be risky; but I suspect that there are a bunch of p-hacking minions of darkness combing through the tailings heap down by the data mines, looking for correlations between patently innocuous interests/behaviors that anyone will be happy to let you target ads for; and the characteristics they care about but can’t be so impolite as to outright request.

Basically “strip mine https://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/ for interests and activities; have a sincere explanation that your real estate and financial services opportunities are just super popular among roller derby enthusiasts, and what’s wrong with that?”; except probably less comically overt and with at least some attempt at statistics.

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You are much too kind.

Just as with AirB&B subverting laws around zoning and accomodation or Uber destroying Taxi regulation, a major part of the appeal of Facebook’s hyper-targeted marketing was the extent to which it neutralised anti-discrimination laws.

IMO, Facebook’s tools worked entirely as intended. As is clearly demonstrated by their initial attempts to evade responsibility while maintaining the offensive behaviour (e.g. the “multicultural affinities” bullshit).

Facebook recognises the commercial value of bigotry, and is happy to exploit it to the fullest extent it can get away with.