ProPublica: Facebook Allowed Advertisers to Reach ‘Jew Haters’

The social network has since removed several anti-Semitic ad categories.

September 15, 2017 11:56 am
According to a recent article by The New York Times, one of the most powerful weapons agents from Russia used to reshape American politics were feelings and misinformation that real Americans were already posting about on social media.
Facebook Newsfeed is a gold mine for partisan media. (Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Until this week, when ProPublica called them out, Facebook enabled advertisers to target people who expressed interest in the topics of “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’” How did ProPublica figure this out? They tried it for themselves.

ProPublica paid $30 to target those groups with three “promoted posts.” All three posts were approved by Facebook within 15 minutes, ProPublica writes in a new piece. The journalism organization then contacted Facebook, who removed the anti-Semitic categories. The social media platform says those categories are created by an algorithm, not by people, and that it would explore ways to fix the problem.

They submitted the first ad with the targeting category “Jew hater,” which Facebook described as “Antysemityzm,” the Polish word for anti-Semitism. Just to make sure the categories were the same, ProPublica bought two additional ads using the term “Jew hater” in combination with other terms. Both times, ProPublica writes, Facebook changed the ad targeting category “Jew hater” to “Antysemityzm.”

This is not the first time Facebook’s advertising team has been in hot water. It was recently discovered that $100,000 worth of ads placed during the 2016 presidential election were actually “inauthentic” accounts that appeared to be affiliated with Russia, writes ProPublica. 

Facebook’s ad categories are generated automatically based on what users share and what they show via their activity on Facebook.

Facebook has vowed to strengthen their monitoring of hate speech since the violent events of Charlottesville. But that hasn’t really happened since ProPublica spotted these categories. ProPublica writes that these categories were probably generated automatically because they had anti-Semitic themes on their profile pages as interests, an employer, or a “field of study.”

ProPublica has gone head-to-head with Facebook ads before. Last year, they noticed that they could exclude African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans from viewing an ad they bought. After ProPublica released an article about it, Facebook said they would build a system to prevent ads like that from being approved.

Since contacting Facebook about anti-Semitic categories, many of those categories have disappeared, ProPublica writes.

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