Facebook blocks ad targeting by sexual orientation

(Getty Images/David Ramos)

Facebook has blocked advertising targeting by sexual orientation, in a move that quietly slipped through the net last month.

Foregoing a public announcement, Facebook removed the option to target ads by sexual orientation on its ad platform in February, leaving organisations that offer services to the LGBT community unable to target their audiences directly.

According to Buzzfeed, Facebook made an exception for dating app companies who are still eligible to use the targeting tool.

Facebook blocked “interested in” targeting as part of a clean-up of its ad platform earlier this year following criticism from users and the US government.

Calvin Stowell, chief growth officer of a 24/7 chat and text line nonprofit aimed at suicidal LGBT youth in the US, the Trevor Project, told Buzzfeed News that the shift had disrupted work and said that it is in talks with Facebook about reinstating the option.

“It’s really important to have the targeting be available,” he said. “We’re advertising our services – obviously they’re life saving.”

Stowell told of his frustration over having “interested in” disabled when providing mental health services to those in the LGBT community who are struggling while dating apps are still able to target by sexual orientation.

“We have a very limited budget, and so now I have to throw money at the wind, hoping it’s going to reach the group I want to reach,” he told Buzzfeed.

Related: Facebook ‘gay cure’ ad sparks outrage

Earlier this year Facebook found itself in a similar storm after announcing plans to disseminate a survey to its users to determine the trustworthiness of news publications.

Users were to be served up a questionnaire asking them to rate the trustworthiness of a publication in a bid to crack down on “fake news”.

The move sparked questions about how it would impact the LGBT community and other vulnerable groups and a push for assurance from Facebook that it wouldn’t “leave LGBT people even more open to persecution and misinformation”.

At the time of the announcement, PinkNews wrote of concerns that the trustworthiness of the news would be determined by someone with both conscious and subconscious biases and prejudices. PinkNews and its supporters feared that it could mean the result would be open to manipulation by those who do not agree with specialist news sites.

The news is not a matter of taste – it is information produced as accurately as possible in order to inform and communicate with the public.

Related: Gay Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: Why does Facebook want to see my dick pics?

Benjamin Cohen, Chief Executive of PinkNews Media Group said: “The changes that Facebook is making could lead to homophobes being asked to evaluate the ‘trustworthiness’ of LGBT+ media.

“If large numbers of people tell Facebook that a publisher is untrustworthy, its content could be restricted for distribution on the Facebook newsfeed.

“This is unhealthy for democracy and for LGBT+ rights. I urge Facebook to issue greater clarity about how LGBT+ and other minority media will not unintentionally be discriminated against as a result of its policy changes.”

Following the Buzzfeed report, Facebook says that dating apps will no longer be allowed access to the “interested in” targeting option. Permissions will be revoked by the end of April 2018.