Here’s how Facebook ads are determined by your ‘ethnic affiliation’

21 Mar 2016

The film Straight Outta Compton was treated interestingly by Facebook, via Business Insider

Facebook’s advertising machine is growing by the day, but did you know it even tailors its work depending on your ‘ethnic affiliation’?*

A panel at the recent SXSW exhibit revealed a bit more than many expected about Facebook’s advertising tactics, with a sort of racial profiling used to promote films to users around the world.

If you saw an ad for the recent film about NWA called Straight Outta Compton on Facebook, its likely the company chose a particular advert based on the type of user it thinks you are – and, more abstractly, what Universal Pictures considers a more suitable advertisement to you, too.

Facebook’s new “ethnic affiliation” (not ‘race’, notably) marketing essentially taps into the mounds of data the company has about its users, looking at what you like and comment on, with different trailers made for users that Facebook considers white, black or Hispanic.

Universal’s SVP Doug Neil was chatting with Facebook’s head of entertainment Jim Underwood about customised advertising, noting the “breakout hit” of the film being in part attributed to this new, tailored yet broad, online advertising.

What Facebook and Universal did is strip away many NWA references in the trailer for its white users after, as Business Insider explains, the duo felt “the ‘general population’ (non-African American, non-Hispanic) wasn’t familiar with NWA, or with the musical catalogue of Ice Cube and Dr Dre.”

The trailers aren’t even nearly similar, either. According to Arstechnica, the first is tailored towards what Facebook calls “non-multicultural” users.

The second was shown to what Facebook calls “multicultural ethnic affinity African-American” audiences.

*Updated on 22 March at 12:00 – Facebook does not tailor ads according to race, rather identifiers acquired by users’ activity. As users don’t identify by race directly on Facebook, actions such as choosing a language or liking social movements or bodies result in what the company calls ‘affinity segments’.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic