Facebook has blamed its users for the fact that advertisers on The Social Network™ could target their ads to “Jew-haters” and other anti-Semitic terms.
The nasty ad targeting was uncovered by ProPublica, a “nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force.” The publication's journos experimented with ad targeting on Facebook and found it claimed the ability to reach people who had expressed interest in the terms “Jew hater”, “How to burn jews,” or,“History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’” The team spent US$30 on Facebook ads and had all approved “within 15 minutes.”
Facebook's mea culpa says that “As people fill in their education or employer on their profile, we have found a small percentage of people who have entered offensive responses, in violation of our policies.”
“ProPublica surfaced that these offensive education and employer fields were showing up in our ads interface as targetable audiences for campaigns,” the dissembling continues. “We immediately removed them.”
Facebook's un-named author goes on to say that “Given that the number of people in these segments was incredibly low, an extremely small number of people were targeted in these campaigns.”
ProPublic says it could address 2,300 users. We'll leave it to readers to decide if that's “incredibly small”.
Facebook's “removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue.” There's also plenty of the usual Making The World A Better Place spiel in The Social Network™'s response, along with reminders that its fine print prohibits hate speech and discrimination.
It's often been observed that Facebook's real product is its users, as without their voluntary surrender of personal data the company could not sell finely-targeted ads. Including, it transpires, ads that target racists.
The incident shows, yet again, that Facebook's moral compass is often strangely-aligned. The company retains a policy preventing the depiction of womens' breasts, but had no problem letting fake accounts buy politically-provocative ads and won't always remove threats of violence. ®