(JTA) — A news site was able to target ads at Facebook users who expressed interest in “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews.”
ProPublica, an investigative site, reported Thursday that Facebook’s advertisement algorithms generated categories including “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” and “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’”
Facebook removed the categories after being alerted to their existence and said it would seek to prevent such categories from popping up for potential advertisers. Later Friday, Facebook said in a statement to JTA that it would remove “self-reported” categories — those generated by users, as opposed to those generated by the company — “until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue.”
The categories on their own were too small to justify an ad buy, according to the Facebook system, so ProPublica added as targets the SS and the Nazi Party, available on Facebook’s generated list as “employers,” and the National Democratic Party of Germany, a current far right political party in Germany.
ProPublica paid $30 for three targeted posts, which reached 5,897 people.
In advising ProPublica on whom to add in order to reach enough users to justify an ad, Facebook’s automated system recommended “Second Amendment,” apparently correlating gun rights advocates with anti-Semites.
Last fall, ProPublica reported that advertisers could use Facebook’s targeting to exclude certain races, or what the social network called “ethnic affinities,” from housing and employment ads, a potential violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Facebook, which assigns the updated term “multicultural affinity” to certain users based on their interests and activities on the site, no longer allows it to be used in ads for housing, employment or credit.
Also Friday, it was reported that both Google and Twitter similarly allowed the sale of ads tied to racist and bigoted keywords. Both companies apologized and said they had taken steps to fix the problem.