Facebook has apologized for allowing advertisers to use phrases like "Jew-haters" as a targeting criteria. The US giant said algorithms were to blame and is taking steps to rectify the situation, but doubts linger.
The independent news website ProPublica found this week that it is possible for advertisers to pay Facebook to target their content to people who indicate an interest in topics such as "Jew hater," "How to burn jews [sic]," or, "History of why jews [sic] ruin the world."
The number of people in these kinds of Facebook groups is usually too small to merit targeting for an ad - Facebook's ad-selling portal, for example, reports about 2,200 "Jew haters." But such anti-Semitic subcategories can be agreggated into larger groups that are then targeted for ads.
When ProPublica contacted Facebook about the anti-Semitic ad categories, the social media firm removed them, explaining they had been generated algorithmically.
Apologies and doubts
Facebook said on Wednesday it was tightening its policies and tools allowing businesses to target ads to its 2 billion users.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, wrote in a post on Wednesday that the company "never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way - and that is on us." She added that Facebook was taking steps to ensure that material violating its community standards could not be used to target ads.
This isn't the first time ProPublica has identified racist ad-targeting on Facebook. A year ago, they demonstrated that they could prevent ads for housing from being shown to people of color.