Saturday 21 October 2017

Facebook suspends ad platform fields after racism scandal

Facebook ‘doing everything’ to keep hate off its platform. Photo: PA
Facebook ‘doing everything’ to keep hate off its platform. Photo: PA
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Facebook has suspended part of its advertising system after it admitted that its algorithms allow marketers to create ad campaigns based on racist and anti-Semitic topics.

The move comes after an investigation by the US-based non-profit organisation ProPublica revealed that businesses were able to target ads at people based on being "Jew haters".

Other monetisable topics included "how to burn Jews" and "history of 'why Jews ruin the world.'"

ProPublica then paid $30 (€25.12) to target those groups with 'promoted posts', where a ProPublica article or post was displayed in the news feeds of those displaying anti-Semitic interests. According to ProPublica, Facebook approved the ads.

Once people put those phrases on their Facebook profiles, the anti-Semitic topics automatically migrated onto the company's advertising platform, as if they were education or job data that would be useful to marketers, Facebook said.

"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," said Facebook in a statement.

"ProPublica surfaced that these offensive education and employer fields were showing up in our ads interface as targetable audiences for campaigns. We immediately removed them.

"Given that the number of people in these segments was incredibly low, an extremely small number of people were targeted in these campaigns.

"To help ensure that targeting is not used for discriminatory purposes, we are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue. We want Facebook to be a safe place for people and businesses, and we'll continue to do everything we can to keep hate off Facebook."

Facebook said last week an operation based in Russia spent $100,000 (€84,000) on thousands of US ads promoting social and political messages over a two-year period through May, fuelling concerns about foreign meddling in US elections.

The company said it shut down 470 "inauthentic" accounts as part of an internal investigation into those ads.

Irish Independent

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