Facebook allowed advertisers to target users with the anti-Semitic demographic category of “Jew Haters.” The practice was enabled until just this week when the social media giant was pressed on the issue by journalists.
A report issued today by the non-profit newsroom ProPublica, confirmed the existence of the now-former ad category with Facebook marketing executives. Facebook made pains to note, however, that the ad category was the product of an algorithm and was not personally created by any Facebook employee(s).
Facebook’s Product Management Director, Rob Leathern, said:
There are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards. In this case, we’ve removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.
But, according to their report, the demographic reach for that category was fairly small–only containing 2,274 users–and thus, not large enough for anyone to purchase advertising targeting the category alone.
Instead, Facebook’s algorithmic advertising system suggested targeting users interested in the “Second Amendment”– likely because U.S. gun owners heavily track with anti-Semites and tend to deal in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Ignoring that political hot potato, ProPublica‘s research team then searched for a variety of other anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi ad categories. Examples of those categories include: “How to burn Jews,” “History of ‘why jews ruin the world’” and “Hitler did nothing wrong.”
Most of those additional categories were also too small for anyone to purchase ads targeting such users on their own, but eventually ProPublica was able to string enough of the anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi categories together to purchase three ads. Those ads were quickly approved by Facebook–which then switched “Jew Hater” to “Antysemityzm” each time.
Facebook now says that most of the anti-Semitic ad categories are gone–and were never widely used in the first place.
UPDATE: In response to ProPublica‘s and LawNewz‘ reporting on this issue, Facebook released an updated statement which was provided by Nissa Anklesaria, who works for a third-party public relations firm. It reads, in part:
Keeping our community safe is critical to our mission. And to help ensure that targeting is not used for discriminatory purposes, we are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue. We want Facebook to be a safe place for people and businesses, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to keep hate off Facebook.
[image via Shutterstock]