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Facebook is removing ‘sensitive’ ads targeting: here’s what to do

— Written by Nicole Jensen of Marlin Communications

It’s harder than ever to keep up and adapt to social media platform changes, and 2022 is certainly going to be no exception.

Recently Facebook’s parent company, Meta, announced that thousands of ad targeting interests would be removed from Ad Manager. These interests are across a variety of topics deemed ‘sensitive’ and will certainly impact not-for-profit and social cause organisations once implemented.

As of 19 January 2022, certain detailed targeting options will be no longer available:

  • Health causes (e.g., “lung cancer awareness”, “World Diabetes Day”, “chemotherapy”)
  • Sexual orientation (e.g., “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT culture”)
  • Religious practices and groups (e.g., “Catholic Church” and “Jewish holidays”)
  • Political beliefs, causes, organisations, and figures
  • Social issues relating to issues such as civil and social rights, crime, economy, education

Existing ad sets with these targeting options will continue to run until 17 March 2022, but you won’t be able to edit them after the January deadline, and you may need to update your targeting selections. Any ad sets using these interests for exclusions will be paused, while any using them for inclusion purposes will continue to run with those interests automatically removed.

Why the change?

Facebook has a habit of wandering into grey areas when it comes to regulatory practices, which is to be expected for a multinational tech giant with a publishers’ business model. 

Notable moments in recent years have contributed to this decision:

  • Apple’s 2020 privacy changes for iOS
  • The EU’s 2018 consumer data protection laws (GDPR)
  • Geopolitical moments such as the 2016 US election and the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal
  • Numerous inquiries and settlements relating to discriminatory ads being run on the platforms.

Why does this matter?

While I understand the motivations behind this decision, this will potentially shortchange charities and social impact organisations who use Facebook and Instagram ads to reach fundraisers, partners and the wider community who support their work.

Much like Apple’s iOS privacy changes, we really won’t know the full impact for a while. But it’s safe to assume this will continue to drive up the cost of acquisition and conversions when using Facebook and Instagram for paid social media activities.

How will you know which ads are affected?

After 19 January 2022, you can visit your Ads Manager account to see your affected campaigns. 

What are your options?

Firstly, take a deep breath. There’s plenty you can do, and it’s a great opportunity to improve results.

Broad targeting

The quickest, easiest and most broad method is to not use interests at all. Simply choose your audience’s location, age and gender and let the algorithm do the rest. 

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have at least one broad ad set running alongside other audiences, especially if your remarketing options are limited. While many might argue broad audiences waste money on users who will never convert, it’s a great control to test other audiences against.

Different interests

To review and edit affected ad sets, you can take the following actions outlined by Facebook which will help you swap out interests.

Depending on your campaign, it may be possible to reach new audiences with the available interests that don’t necessarily match your cause at a first glance.

For example, let’s say you’re an NFP running a fitness challenge to raise funds for cancer research projects. While you can no longer target ‘cancer research’ keywords, you can use fitness and health interests like ‘marathon’ or ‘running.’ This would have the added benefit of broadening your audience beyond those who have heard of you before and into segments who would take part in the challenge.

In addition to using different interests, targeting expansion is available for opt-in on all ad campaign objectives, except Brand Awareness and Reach. This is a simple feature (a mere checkbox under Audience settings) which tells Facebook you’d like them to expand beyond your chosen interests into other similar ones where it would improve results. Note, Facebook forces targeting expansion on for some campaign types and it can’t be turned off.

Remarketing and lookalikes

Another option is to double down on data-driven targeting, by expanding on audiences you’ve already reached. Simply upload a list of contacts (i.e. from your CRM) of between 1,000 and 50,000 people and Facebook will try its best to reach those users.

Unfortunately, though, there’s a direct correlation between audience size and how expensive it is to reach them. Smaller organisations often don’t have enough contacts to justify increased costs to reach them, certainly not since the iOS privacy changes last year made it much harder for Facebook to find those users.

To minimise this impact, you can ask Facebook to create lookalikes of customer lists and expand on those further.

Similar to targeting expansion, lookalike expansion can increase the size of a lookalike audience. While not available for lookalikes based solely on a customer list, the expansion option is automatically applied if you use Lookalike Audiences in an ad set optimised for conversions, value or app events using the Conversions objective.

As always with ad sets, be careful not to overdo it with too many ad sets live at one time. Test the above ad set options against each other, and go from there.


Moving away from in-platform changes, another option for charities is to build strong partnerships with other organisations, influencers and communities (including their own supporter communities).

For example, we’ve seen many community fundraising campaigns “make or break it” with the involvement of corporate sponsors. Piggy-backing off shared Facebook assets like pixels and audiences can greatly broaden your warmer remarketing audiences. 

On the organic front, Facebook groups have become a powerful resource in recent years too, with referrals, incentives, prizes and live video content emerging as effective strategies to leverage networks.

Hard mode: bailing on Facebook

Since the iOS changes, the increased cost of Facebook and Instagram ads has potentially flipped the perspective of the cost of other platforms previously seen as expensive. 

With charities looking to spend marketing budgets in the most impactful ways possible, I have no doubt that charities will explore other platforms, especially YouTube, LinkedIn for corporate programs, and Tiktok for under 30s.

Our industry is potentially reaching a turning point of assessing where we spend our marketing dollars and the company that benefits. Shanelle at Parachute Digital reinforced this at the end of last year in her article ‘Facebook is EVIL and you know it’

Whichever other platform you choose, be sure to do your research on suitability and have resources available to manage it. 

Google to the rescue?

The other big player in understanding the impact of the removed targeting options is Google and website analytics. 

Having top-notch tracking and attribution setups is no longer a ‘nice to have’. 

Make sure your Google Analytics, UTM links, APIs and other tracking methods are set up correctly, with enough detail to measure specific Facebook audiences and ads. You should also consider the tools you have in place to quickly and effectively see campaign metrics and results in one place, i.e. a dashboard.

If you are looking for support managing your tracking and data reporting, you can reach out to us to learn more about our approach. 

Additional Resources

View the announcement and find out more about the decision. 

View more information on the updates to detailed targeting in the Facebook Business Help Centre. 

Government, Politics and Nonprofit Concierge (GPNC)

Facebook has a GPNC which provides assistance to government, political and nonprofit organisations.

If you have an issue you can fill out a form describing it, and receive assistance directly from a representative through an online chat function. 

The GPNC also offers an ad pre-review function, whereby you can submit an ad prior to publishing it and will be notified as to whether it may be rejected.

To request access to the GPNC,  you will need to email: [email protected]. You will need to share the email address you use to access your account. 

We can’t vouch for the efficacy of this new service so far, but it may be a good point of contact for you.


The information provided in this article is to be used only as a guide. Facebook may continue to make changes to advertising policies on their platform.

We strongly recommend that charities use Facebook’s new GPNC service, assigned account manager, or support portal to get the latest updates and information on these changes.