Facebook pulls feature that helped advertisers target anti-Semitic users

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 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 US Fair Housing Act 1969.

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.

ProPublica shared a screenshot of the anti-Semitic targeting that was available through Facebook's ad portal.

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Facebook, as part of its review, noted in a post Thursday that it noticed a "small percentage" of users entering "offensive responses" in their education or employer fields on their profiles.

Only Wednesday, Facebook took another step toward cleaning itself up with an extremely thorough new set of guidelines to protect companies from having their ads appear on any kind of controversial content. Facebook is also enabling advertisers to report any fields they think breach Facebook's policies.

Last week, Facebook revealed that during the 2016 election cycle it sold thousands of advertisements to fake accounts likely operated out of Russian Federation. 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.

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But obviously the Facebook ad targeting algorithms were not changed because using the same tools, the Slate later found more hateful terms that advertisers could use to reach their audience.

This is a big deal because it could shape the styles of content created for Facebook Watch, the new original programming hub its launched where publishers earn 55% of ad revenue.

Of course, this not being the first time something like this has happened; Facebook has unfortunately developed a sense of what to say in these situations already. Conceivably, those who might find it helpful to target anti-Semites could range from recruiters for far-right groups to marketers of Nazi memorabilia. These two groups had a combined audience of nearly 6000 users. After the ad was approved, Facebook also automatically described the advert as targeting people interested in "Antysemityzm", a Polish word. Initially, CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed critics' assertion that Facebook helped sway the vote in President Donald Trump's vote as a "pretty insane idea". "We don't allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook, and as a result, we have since shut down the accounts and Pages we identified that were still active", the company said in a statement at the time.

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