Earlier this year, Google faced an advertiser boycott after ads appeared next to extremist YouTube videos.
ProPublica, an investigative news organization, reported on Thursday that the social network’s self-service ad-buying system allowed people to direct advertisements to almost 2,300 users interested in several explicitly antisemitic subjects, including a category labeled “History of “why Jews ruin the world”. The “Jew hater” category only had 2,274 people associated with it (not enough to buy an ad), so the Facebook algorithm recommended adding “Second Amendment” as an additional category-“presumably because its system had correlated gun enthusiasts with anti-Semites”, the report explained.
ProPublica says that since they contacted Facebook about the anti-Semitic ad categories, majority have disappeared.
In a statement, Rob Leathern, product management director at Facebook, said the company was working to create “guardrails” that would prevent this from happening in the future. We downloaded more than 29,000 ad categories from Facebook’s ad system – and found categories ranging from an interest in “Hungarian sausages” to “People in households that have an estimated household income of between $100K and $125K”.
Leathern said in his statement Thursday: “We don’t allow hate speech on Facebook”. When ProPublica searched for categories related to “Hitler”, Facebook suggested a field called “Hitler did nothing wrong“. And in another odd twist – lending to users’ own self-identification tools – the Nazi SS and “Nazi Party” were both listed to advertisers as “employers” with audiences in the thousands. Within 15 minutes, Facebook approved our ad, with one change. ProPublica was able to purchase an ad targeting Facebook members who were house-hunting that excluded African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American users, which runs contrary to rules established by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To verify these were real, they bundled a few together and bought an ad targeting them, which indeed went live.
Shortly after submitting their targeted ads to Facebook, ProPublica received the results of their campaign: The three ads reached 5,897 people, generated 101 clicks, and 13 “engagements”, i.e. “likes”, “shares” or comments on a post.
Since we contacted Facebook, most of the anti-Semitic categories have disappeared. “We have looked at the use of these audiences and campaigns and it’s not common or widespread”, he said. ProPublica was unable to find analogous ad categories of different religions. Facebook didn’t have them.