Facebook ads: That line between targeting audiences and discriminating specific groups

Estimated read time: 3 minutes



As I was working on some Facebook ads and a social promotion strategy, Facebook interrupted my progress to alert me that I shouldn’t discriminate against anyone in a protected class with my ads.

OK, I see the note, Facebook. That wasn’t in my plans anyway. But let’s take a look at what’s going on…

Of course, I clicked over to read the policy:

Facebook’s Advertising Policies prohibit advertisers from using our ads products to discriminate against individuals or groups of people. Ads are discriminatory when they deny opportunities to individuals or groups of people based on certain personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family/marital status, disability or medical or genetic condition.

Then Facebook gave me examples of what is allowed and what isn’t:

Pretty straight forward and I’m not sure how marketers would ever run into this problem, Nonetheless, I discussed it on this Twitter Live broadcast, which is also embedded below if you are interested in hearing my discussion with myself. 🙂

I understand why this would apply if you are trying to hire people for a job. Only targeting your ad toward a specific age group certainly could be discrimination.

Same if we filter out gender and other protected groups. But, I wondered, can Facebook even target by those other areas?

  • How does it know my sexual orientation?
  • Or my national origin?
  • Or any of those groups?


It certainly knows I’m married – my wife and I are Facebook friends, too. 🙂 But why allow anyone to target based on that? If it’s prohibited just turn those options off. Or turn them off for the ads that they apply to.


Of course, I wanted to know what kind of audiences I’ve targeted over the years. Here’s an overview:

I’ve targeted mostly event planners to get speaking engagements, recruiters when I was actively looking for a job and others when I was trying to promote a service or area of expertise.

That’s another thing to consider for marketers: The discrimination laws and policies are there to make sure everyone has the same opportunity and that protected classes aren’t given fewer opportunities.

Thinking about the opportunity part first. Most of my ads are commercial in matter – for lack of a better term.

  • Check out my content now
  • Hire me
  • Etc.

I’m not sure that it’s withholding opportunities from somebody when they didn’t get a chance to hire me or read my stuff.

So the application here for B2B/B2C marketers like myself is probably small. It certainly applies if you are posting jobs for your company or other ads that fit into that category.

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Thinking back on my Facebook ad campaigns, I usually just filter/target by one of these:

I would think most marketing campaigns do something similar and I’ve followed that same approach – within those two bullet points in projects across industries.

That’s the strategy I’ve used and I don’t see it changing necessarily. I do have to say that success with Facebook seems to be diminishing anyway. Paid or not.

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