Last week, I chronicled
a resurgence in the mysterious religious ad targeting on Facebook. Facebook
confirmed my suspicion about the limits of ad targeting on the social network.
A spokesperson told me, "We don't extend the capability to target by
religion. Therefore, advertisers cannot target users based on their identified
religion in their profile." Still, how was this happening?
A number of readers shared their Jewdar theories on MediaPost's
site, other blogs, or via email, and most have given permission for me to cite
them by name. Most give Facebook too much credit, assuming the targeting
options are far more sophisticated than what's really available. Here's a
THEORY 1: Facebook is using advanced behavioral targeting.
Uriah Av-Ron: Could the Hebrew ad for
Mayor Mike have been prompted by the fact that you have friends on Facebook who
do have Hebrew on their pages, or maybe someone once wrote you a message in
THEORY 2: Facebook allows targeting by name.
Roy Moskowitz: They're definitely
targeting based on traditionally Jewish last names.
Mike Myers: Just wondering aloud,
could the targeting be based on the new URLs that contain names? Perhaps they
have a list of names they consider Jewish and are targeting based on profile
Jessica Hasenplaugh: Are you sure the
advertisers are that sophisticated? Maybe they're just targeting anyone with
"owitz" or other similarly Jewish-sounding suffixes in their last
names. Incidentally, I don't receive any German-specific targeting, and I don't
think that religion is implied in my last name.
Sergei Kogut: This is probably
farfetched, but could it be simply because Facebook, unlike many other places
where you're likely to see targeted ads, knows exactly what your first and last
names are? If you filter just about any list of names for those that end in
-itz, you'll get every instance of Leibowitz, Goetz and even Moskowitz. Add to
that a similar first name filter, and you'll end up with a most probably 99%
Jewish list. Of course it isn't an exact science, and no one would be able to
anticipate all the name spelling variations, never mind the problem of name
changes that happen when people get married or adopted, but overall a fairly
large share of last names display a spelling pattern that could reveal the
ethnicity of their owners.
THEORY 3: Facebook allows targeting based on users' social graphs.
Marcy: I don't actually believe that they
have a Jewdar or whatnot-dar. It is possible that they add the network of those
who are already in their network (check out common friends). If you have at
least one friend in common, you'll know where they came from or who referred
you. It's more likely for them to search people by city and not by religion or
race. Maybe you're just in a city that's quite popular, or you probably have a
THEORY 4: The targeting is broken to begin with.
Cathy Taylor [not the fellow
Social Media Insider columnist]:
Your experience with targeted ads on Facebook is rather funny.
I'm still wondering why FB is serving up single, white males (older males too)
to me when I'm a single black female (not that old). I joked the other day that
perhaps FB is suggesting that I try "Something New" until a friend
who works as an interactive art director reminded me that Caucasian clip art is
Edward Barrera: So then where are my taco,
plantain and rum ads? I'm getting discriminat[ed against] by Facebook because
I'm a Latino. Scandal.
John Jainschigg: Oy is right. (sigh) This
automated inference seems amusing until, one day, it's not. One day, last year,
I happened to use the phrase "anarcho-syndicalist" in a blog (I think
I was quoting Monty Python), and watched as my Gmail was suddenly overrun with
ads for Che Guevara t-shirts and red-diaper-baby memoirs. So we're already a
couple lines deep into the famous poem: "First,
they came for the communists … " Not a pretty picture, if you're of
THEORY 5: A few overzealous advertisers are making the most of
what they have to work with.
Me: Here's a conundrum: you want to target members of a certain
ethnic group online. For whatever reason, you think at least some of your
target is on Facebook, and perhaps you like the self-service approach with low
minimum bids. So you cobble together what you can. You make generalizations.
You want Hispanics so you target people interested in Telemundo (16,000+ in the
U.S.). You want African American college graduates so you target people who
went to schools like Morehouse (5,700 for that college alone). Then, as you want
to expand the campaign's reach, you target broader and broader until it gets
When you do that, though, some people who notice the ad are going
to wonder why it's so on-target, or why it's off-base. Someone might even
compile theories about it. And some of those theories may reveal some people's
concerns around online advertising. Then again, that's just another theory.