After ProPublica accused Facebook of allowing marketers to target “Jew haters,” the social networking giant is temporarily disabling the features that let them do it. On Thursday, the company said it is limiting advertisers’ ability to target users based on their education and job information.
Helped marketers target “Jew haters”
Facebook’s action came hours after the New York-based non-profit news organization ProPublica reported that Facebook’s ad-buying platform allowed advertisers to target users who, in their field of study or work, have listed themselves with phrases like “Jew haters.” According to the news organization, about 2,500 users have used terms like “History of why Jews ruin the world,’” “how to burn Jews,” and “Jew haters” in their profile.
For the investigation, ProPublica paid $30 to verify that users with such anti-Semitic phrases in their profiles saw the posts it promoted.
“Want to market Nazi memorabilia, or recruit marchers for a far-right rally? Facebook’s self-service ad-buying platform had the right audience for you,” reads the article from ProPublica. According to ProPublica, its posts were approved by Facebook within 15 minutes, and Facebook confirmed the organization’s findings.
“We are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue,” the company said.
To ensure that such things don’t come up in the future, the company said it plans to make the screening process tougher for categories before they are added in the self-service platform. According to Facebook, there were not very many marketers using such anti-Semitic categories.
“Given that the number of people in these segments was incredibly low, an extremely small number of people were targeted in these campaigns,” the company said.
In its investigation, ProPublica also found that there were not very many objectionable ad categories, but Facebook’s algorithms came up with suggestions to expand the size of marketers’ audience. For instance, when ProPublica looked for categories related to “Hitler,” the algorithm suggested that it look for “Hitler did nothing wrong” or add “Nazi Party” to increase the size of the audience for the posts.
Not the first time something like this has happened
A similar investigation that was also conducted by ProPublica last year revealed that Facebook ad targeting encouraged racial discrimination, as it allowed marketers to exclude certain groups from being shown ads for housing, credit services, and employment. After the report, the social networking giant changed its policy. Facebook was also recently criticized for allowing hate groups like neo-Nazis to thrive on its platform.
This latest trouble for Facebook comes at a time when it is already facing accusations for its alleged role in the presidential election. Last week, the company told authorities that it had tracked over $100,000 worth of ads related to hot-button issues from Russian companies. Further, the company said that about 3,000 ads from 470 fake accounts and pages were related to issues like gun control, race, gay rights and immigration.
Google has also faced similar accusations in the past. The Guardian reported last year that Google’s algorithms “were suggesting neo-Nazi white supremacist websites promoting Holocaust deniers.” Many big companies also abandoned YouTube after it was discovered that their ads were appearing with extremist videos.