Facebook moves to block offensive terms from targeted advertising campaigns

Gwen Vasquez
September 22, 2017

Facebook is doing this by adding more human oversight to a process that was largely algorithmic - typically a move of last resort for tech companies whose software often aims to eliminate the need for human intervention. To fix the problem, Facebook is adding human review to the process, hoping it will be a firewall against something like this happening again.

The ProPublica expose found that ads on Facebook could be targeted at people who expressed interest in topics such as "Jew hater" and "how to burn Jews".

For people who want to revisit a Facebook ad, the social giant has introduced a "Recent Ad Activity" feature to all U.S. users that displays around three months of ads that they engaged by clicking, liking, commenting on or sharing, reported TechCrunch. If Facebook is using the same standards that it uses on individual posts, then the company might allow ads that target people who dislike poor people, for example.

Sandberg admitted in her post that Facebook was unprepared for such abuse because it hadn't considered it.

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"We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way - and that is on us", Sandberg wrote. Earlier this month Facebook revealed that a Russian "troll farm" had spent $100,000 on politically-oriented ads during the election, and the company shut down 470 Russian-associated pages and accounts.

Facebook is tightening controls on its advertising targeting tools, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg announced in a statement acknowledging that the ability for advertisers to target "Jew haters" until last week was "totally inappropriate and a fail on our part". Facebook is reinstating 5,000 targeting options that had been temporarily banned - terms like "nurse" or "teacher".

To test if these ad categories were real, ProPublica paid $30 to target those groups with three "promoted posts". "If we discover unintended consequences in the future, we will be unrelenting in identifying and fixing them as quickly as possible". In this case, we've removed the associated targeting fields in question. Facebook is more permissive, however, when it comes to hate speech directed at subsets of these categories, like age, political ideology, appearance, social class, or occupation.

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