According to Bloomberg, Facebook has temporarily suspended the ability to allow advertisers to target people by education or employer, after an investigation by ProPublica found users could target ads using keywords like “Jew hater” or “Hitler did nothing wrong.”
Investigating Facebook’s ad system, ProPublica was able to target ads to categories like “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews,” based on self-reported information in users’ fields under categories like field of study and job title. In many cases, those categories were suggested by Facebook’s automated system when typing words like “Jew” or “Hitler.” Although Facebook has taken proactive steps to combat hate groups on the platform, the company also admits that its AI continues to face difficulty in finding and removing hate speech. These latest ads raise yet another concern about how Facebook’s platform can be exploited to embolden hate groups.
Many of these groups were too small to be specifically by Facebook ads — the group for “Hitler did nothing wrong” was only 15 people — but ProPublica found they could get around this gate by combining several smaller groups. After specifying the initial Hitler group, Facebook suggested also targeting those interested in the National Democratic Party of Germany, an ultranationalist political party. Facebook then approved the ads within 15 minutes.
In response to the findings, Bloomberg reports that Facebook is temporarily removing education and employer fields as ways to target ads. “We are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue,” the company said.
“Our community standards strictly prohibit attacking people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, and we prohibit advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes,” said Facebook. “However, there are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards. We know we have more work to do.”
Facebook’s advertising platform has been under intense scrutiny several times this year already. The company has overestimated the average viewing time for video ads, and inflated the number of visitors to business pages. For months the company insisted it was unaware of any Russian ads being purchased to influence US politics, only to reverse that stance this month.