Sex, Facebook, and Social Media Diversity

True Colors - The Anti-Social MediaLast week I read two great blog posts about diversity in social media thought leadership by Jay Baer and Danny Brown. Both are great posts and raise some really great questions about issues social media marketers and business leaders need to keep in mind. However,  they made me think of my own experiences with diversity.

I am as privileged as any white male in American society. However, I am gay, which is an entirely different kind of minority status. When I read about diversity, I think about the subject in broader terms than just race alone.

Online, it’s easy to think about race in terms of diversity. Everyone is an egomaniac, so their avatar, their Facebook profile, and their blog is filled with their picture. You make a judgement of what race they are based on what you see and then move on from there. Sexuality is something completely different. Unless I am puking rainbows in the pride parade and post a million photos about it, I look like every other geeky white male with a social media blog. My minority is invisible until I start talking about it.

What is most interesting to me about sexual diversity online is how it is treated on Facebook. Facebook doesn’t see racial diversity. You don’t enter your race when you sign up for Facebook.  Facebook doesn’t classify and segregate you by the color of your skin. Only Facebook users classify other users by race.

But, if you choose to enter the information, Facebook classifies you by your sexuality.

I may volunteer this information, but by doing so, the factor that makes me a minority is public knowledge. Even if I don’t enter that information and state I am in a relationship with another man, my status becomes known.

And once this is known by Facebook, it starts targeting you based on your sexuality like a shark that has caught the scent of blood.

Even after being in a domestic partnership with my cat for two months (who is listed as female), I still get ads that are targeted at gay men. Ads for websites like “Bear City.” Ads for “Pants that give you a Great Butt.” Ads for “Cute, sexy underwear.”

This is horrific. As marketers, why do we find it acceptable to target someone on ANY minority status? Why is it OK to target a woman because she is a lesbian, but not because she is black?

Imagine if one of these ads that targets gay men gave me a discount code and I use that discount code. Now that institution knows my minority status. They can’t target you because you are black or white, but they can capitalize on every penny because you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight.

We can talk all we want about diversity online and the need to include people of different races and sexualities. Those are always good things to have at the top of mind. Today we can make an immediate difference. Marketers: stop targeting Facebook ads based on sexual identity. Tell Facebook is it unacceptable to target people based on ANY minority status.

Start thinking about diversity beyond just what you can see on the outside of a person, and start thinking about the whole of their life. There’s more to any person than the tiny portrait they present online and the color of their skin in that avatar. As leaders on a new frontier, it is our duty to lead the way on this issue. Stop discriminating, and do a better job.

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26 Responses to “Sex, Facebook, and Social Media Diversity”

  1. Ron Shevlin March 28, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    Jay -

    I understand the point you’re making here, and, in principle, agree with you.

    But there’s another way — a less offending way — to look at this.

    Facebook isn’t targeting you based on “minority status.” It’s targeting you based on a “piece of information” it knows about you.

    This is, in principle, no different than any other marketer targeting a piece of direct mail to somebody because of their credit score or zip code. As a matter of fact, as someone with a top tier credit score, that puts me in a minority status too, no? Are credit card issuers doing something wrong because they target their offers at me because of this?

    Harmfully or maliciously discriminating against someone because they’re part of a minority group is wrong. No doubt about that. But targeting ads at someone because they’re part of that group is something very different.

    Having said that, I do think you’d be justified in being offended by the ads. Just because you’re gay, does that really mean you’re into “cute, sexy underwear”? That’s the real offense here. But that offense is being committed by the advertiser, not Facebook.

  2. Mich March 28, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    Amen to that!

    • Jay March 28, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

      Can I get a hallelujah?!

  3. MKR March 28, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Watch as a million people try to comment with “Facebook is gay.”

    • Jay March 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

      One reason I moderate comments is because every time I mention I’m gay, I get a bunch of “R u a homosexual?” comments.

      • MKR March 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

        I didn’t even know before this post. I thought about pretending to be terribly offended and bothered, but figured that might kick off a boring tangent of people with no sense of humor calling me names.

        Worst kind of tangent.

        • Jay March 29, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

          Last thing we need is name calling on this blog. The sarcasm and satire are more than enough.

  4. Alyson March 28, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    True.. but yet where should the line be drawn for how Facebook can use that information for targeted marketing? As a straight, white female, I don’t particularly stand out in a crowd.. but as a female in business school I was a minority and had targeted ads for that. Or since my status says ‘single’ and that I’m interested in fitness, I see ‘date a bodybuilder’ ad every day! At the end of the day though, since after all, it was my choice to put those interests and characteristics out for the public, I figure I can’t be too bothered by what ads pop up as a result.

  5. Tim Arthur March 28, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    Great post Jay.

    Hopefully society will someday arrive at a place where people or organizations no longer classify or place emphasis on an individuals sexuality. Having said that, if an advertiser sees even a minuscule amount of success serving up those ads, they will continue doing it.

  6. Cecilia March 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    @Jay Baer should be proud!
    first @Danny Brown and now you. He got us talking about the issue!

    As I stated in Danny Brown’s posting, I am a Hispanic female over 50 with weight issues and I should know about discrimination,but I don’t. I believe that minorities tend to discriminate themselves from the rest. If you believe that you are “different”, guess what? you will be perceived as different.
    If I decide that I want to tell the rest of the world that Im a single, over 50 female with weight issues, I expect to see ads that are targeted to me particularly (otherwise I should hide under a rock). Should I be offended by that? I think not.
    We are all selling something, and whether you Jay, think that you are not, you are more naive that you think.

    I just posted the following on my wall, I hope you enjoy it
    “In a world in which demographic growth and progress in communications have put us in very close contact with our neighbors, the very survival of humanity depends on our working together. That is why more than ever, we must look upon humanity as one entity. The problems that we face go beyond individuals and nations. We can only resolve them through an effort of shared responsibility”
    Dalai Lama

    are we being responsible by writing articles that talk about segregation, differences and diversity? talking about “them” against us?
    Perhaps we should embrace those differences and talk more about the integration of diversities?
    in the end, only talking about the issues, will make them a bit clearer to all….lets keep talking!

  7. Samantha March 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    As much as what I’m about to say may sound mocking to your post, it isn’t. I’m single, white and pushing 40. I can’t stand the ads I’m targeted with - “Marry a Mormon” (not even joking), all sorts of dating site trash, loads of wine ads (ok, those I don’t mind), wrinkle creams - you name it… but, frankly, I don’t need to constantly see rubbish adverts about how to find a date - I know how to find a date! Or plastic surgery and miracle wrinkle cures- gah! I actually changed my status to married and watched all of the ads change immediately. It’s a bit freakish how fast my ads changed from singles ads to honeymoons and mortgages… Anyway, my point is this - I might not be a minority, but I understand your point completely and agree that there is a line in Marketing that we choose to cross it or not. And many may say that it’s not their choice, it’s their company’s choice - bullshit. We all have choices. And as far as I’m concerned, anyone’s status (single, relationship, married, etc) IS their sexual identity whether it be gay, straight, bi, etc… I’m with you, I feel chased by the targeting hounds daily.

  8. Dave Van de Walle March 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Don’t know if it comforts you one iota, but I, as a straight, married, white dude, was getting Facebook ads up until a month ago that suggested I visit gay dating sites.

    This is a complex issue - one person’s micro-targeting is another person’s discrimination. I’m sure that I got the gay dating site Facebook ads because I have “liked” causes such as Human Rights Watch, the Courage Campaign, etc.

    The flip side - I will watch a video for a rock band on YouTube and see an ad that says “I’m a Mormon.” And I don’t know what to think.

    But your advice to look at diversity more holistically, and beyond those easy answers like skin color, is really REALLY sensible. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jay March 28, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

      The more I think about this,t he more I think Facebook’s targeting is just plain terrible.

      • Kären Engelbrecht March 29, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

        Yes. Universally terrible. According to Facebook the instant I turned 30 I transformed into a self-loathing spinster as all it shows me are ads to “Lose 4 dress sizes”, “Remove wrinkles” and “Meet elite mature singles”. I’m still not entirely sure what that last one means.

        • MKR March 29, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

          It’s code for “wealthy globetrotting playboy.”

  9. allison March 28, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    I would like to be the minority (okay, majority) known as “people who ignore online ads and specifically Facebook ads”

    I had to go look to see if there were any interesting FB ads because I never paid attention. (Answer is “no”)

    But seriously, would you feel differently if the ads were for gay friendly businesses? What if the ad was for Legends or the gay cruise line? Why would it be so bad to be targeting you? Who would they advertise to? I get annoyed when marketers waste their money advertising baby products to me just because I am a female of child-bearing age, instead of products I might actually buy (but back to point number 1, which is I don’t even pay attention to these ads to begin with)

    As part of your agreement with Facebook, they are allowed to use your data for their free service. If you don’t like it, delete your account.

    • Jay March 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

      I know, I give that information, and in terms I get a free service, and then people pay to serve ads to me.

      What’s ridiculous to me is that you can target based on my sexuality, but you can’t target on race, religion, or politics. Why are those protected from targeted ads, but my identity is not?

  10. allison March 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    BTW, marketers target all the time on race, income, education, gender, religion and other things we aren’t supposed to discriminate, but is perfectly fine under the guise of targeting.

    • Jay March 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

      Yeah, I know we do. Doesn’t mean we can’t do a better job.

  11. Lauren Zuber March 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm #


    I think this is a wonderful, heartfelt and honest post. I read your blog for your social media rants that are smart and funny, a rarity in ranting, but I appreciate you showing this side of yourself to contribute to the diversity discussion. This is the level of honesty and openness needed to discuss diversity issues in social media and life and I hope that more posts, tweets and unplugged conversations result. Thank you for writing this and starting conversations.

  12. Rene Schlegel April 1, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    An excellent new twist to look at this newish FB addition.

    However, exactly the same remarks could e.g. be made about the “age” question (and many others) since similar targeting, “discrimination” etc are equally possible for this and almost all other indications and activities FB users choose to publish.

    Lets assume that FB would let users opt in to add a plethora of other info about themselves, say something seemingly mundane like: “Color of your eyes”, then this orientational addition would be one of many and therefore much more acceptable.

    Blaming marketers seems to me a bit off the mark. There was always a reason why to place an ad in EBONY or, God forbid, buy and use the magazines subscriber base for . targeted direct mailings…..

    Perhaps FB could ad a “do not use for targeted marketing” box (opting out) for each profile feature, but could it afford too….? Perhaps not.

    Thanks for a provoking post.

  13. xczxc April 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Iget targeted for being a LATINO girl, even tho I’m whiter than you, and I get horrible ads regarding my home country.

    • Jay April 1, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

      Have you seen my head shots? I’m as pale as a ghost.

      That sucks about your home country though. Facebook marketers have no shame.


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