Until This Week, Facebook Sold Ads Targeting 'Jew Haters'

Not very thumbs up Anti Semitic ad targeting found possible on Facebook

Not very thumbs up Anti Semitic ad targeting found possible on Facebook. Credit David Paul Morris Bloomberg

Last week, the company disclosed it sold $100,000 worth of ads to inauthentic accounts likely linked to Russian Federation during the election.

Until this week Facebook had allowed people to buy advertisements that were targeted at users who expressed an interest in phrases such as "Jew hater" or "why Jews ruin the world", according to an investigation by ProPublica, a non-profit news organisation.

ProPublica, acting on a tip, made a decision to test the system, and spent $30 on promoted posts using categories like "Nazi Party", "Jew hater", and "Hitler did nothing wrong". Facebook reportedly approved the three ads within 15 minutes.

The ad categories were created by an algorithm, and not people, so when ProPublica contacted Facebook about them, the categories were removed, and the company said that it would explore ways to fix the problem.

Facebook Product Management Director Rob Leathern weighed in on the controversy.

"Multiple times during the ad-buying process "Facebook described the ad targeting category 'Jew hater" as 'Antysemityzm, ' the Polish word for anti-Semitism".

Last year, ProPublica reported that Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude users by race when running housing or other ads, despite a prohibition on such ads under the U.S. Fair Housing Act 1969. It should be said that these categories were tiny, at least in Facebook terms. Not only Facebook, but Google Inc., many ad networks and many publishers depending on their syndicated ads could see their cash cows threatened if it turns out the practice of automated "programmatic advertising" results in ad targeting that offends a large proportion of the population. "However, there are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards".

A 2013 post from the company specifically names Jewish people as a group frequently targeted by threats and hate speech on the platform. The operation used hundreds of "inauthentic accounts" impersonating average Americans to share "divisive social and political messages", the company said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to the bloodshed by writing that "there is no place for hate in our community" and that the site was committed to removing content that "promotes or celebrates hate crimes or acts of terrorism".

One change Facebook said it was considering was adding more thorough reviews of targeting categories before they show up in the self-service platform.

Up until a few days ago, if you wanted to target an ad to people who considered themselves "Jew haters", Facebook would let that happen.

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