Facebook on Friday said it had blocked a feature allowing advertisers to reach out to “Jew haters,” following investigative reports a day earlier that revealed the social media giant enabled campaigns for hate groups.
Facebook said it worked to fix the problem, which is based on an algorithm, after reports in ProPublica and Slate showing that advertisers were able to specifically target anti-Semitic or prejudiced users with their ads.
According to Slate, however, it was still possible to purchase ads targeting anti-Muslim and white nationalist users even after Facebook intervened.
ProPublica reported that “the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of ‘Jew hater,’ ‘How to burn jews,’ or, ‘History of why jews ruin the world.’”
Although the category was too small on its own, when adding other categories, such as the far-right, ultra-nationalist National Democratic Party of Germany, ProPublica was able to purchase ads targeting the 2,274 people who listed “Jew hater” in the “education” or “work” sections of their profiles. The ads were approved within 15 minutes.
The website also found that 3,194 listed their employer as “German Schutzstaffel” — the German SS — and another 2,449 who said they worked for “Nazi Party.”
Facebook removed the categories after ProPublica contacted the social media network and said it would work to fix the problem.
“There are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s product management director told ProPublica. “In this case, we’ve removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.”
However, the Slate online news site discovered that the problem ran much deeper, and it was still able to purchase the targeted advertising even after Facebook had reacted to ProPublica’s investigation.
— Slate (@Slate) September 15, 2017
“When Slate tried something similar Thursday, our ad targeting ‘Kill Muslimic Radicals,’ ‘Ku-Klux-Klan,’ and more than a dozen other plainly hateful groups was similarly approved,” the website wrote, adding the ads were placed one hour after ProPublica published its story. “In our case, it took Facebook’s system just one minute to give the green light.”
Facebook allowed ads targeting people who listed “How kill jewish,” “Killing Bitches” or “Killing Hajis” in their field of study. The categories were too small on their own, but the advertisements could be placed by also targeting supporters of Germany’s National Democratic Party.
Other categories that appeared in Facebook’s autocomplete tool were, “Kill Muslimic Radicals,” “Killing Haji,” “Ku-Klux-Klan,” “Jew Killing Weekly Magazine” and “The school of fagget murder & assassination.”
Facebook has over a billion users, and the number of users who used a hate term for their employer or school was comparatively minuscule.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post last month: “There is no place for hate in our community.”
“We won’t always be perfect, but you have my commitment that we’ll keep working to make Facebook a place where everyone can feel safe,” he wrote.