Face­book and Google loop­hole al­lowed ad­verts to tar­get racists

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - By Har­riet Alexan­der in New York and Cara Mc­googan TECH­NOL­OGY RE­PORTER

FACE­BOOK and Google are to al­ter their ad­ver­tis­ing sys­tems af­ter it emerged that ad­verts could be bought to reach peo­ple who de­scribe them­selves as “Jew hater” or those who con­duct searches us­ing racist terms.

In­ves­tiga­tive web­site Propublica was able to ex­pose a loop­hole that al­lowed it to dis­play paid-for ad­verts be­fore peo­ple with hate­ful views – and Face­book and Google al­go­rithms ac­cepted them. Within 15 min­utes, Propublica was given ap­proval for a $30 (£22) “pro­moted post” on Face­book which would ad­ver­tise to peo­ple who had ex­pressed anti-semitic views.

Users they were able to tar­get had ex­pressed in­ter­est in the top­ics “Jew hater”, “how to burn Jews” and “his­tory of why Jews ruin the world”.

An­other cat­e­gory of users Propublica were able to tar­get was those who de­scribed their field of study as “Hitler did noth­ing wrong”.

Face­book, which has now deleted the of­fen­sive cat­e­gories, said Propublica “tricked” its al­go­rithm by putting of­fen­sive de­scrip­tions in ed­u­ca­tion and em­ployer fields on their pro­files.

“There are times where con­tent is sur­faced on our plat­form that vi­o­lates our stan­dards,” said Rob Leath­ern, prod­uct man­age­ment di­rec­tor at Face­book. “In this case, we’ve re­moved the as­so­ci­ated tar­get­ing fields in ques­tion.”

Face­book’s ad­ver­tis­ing has found it­self un­der scru­tiny since it dis­closed last week that it had re­ceived $100,000 for ad­verts posted dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion sea­son by “in­au­then­tic” ac­counts that ap­peared to be af­fil­i­ated with Rus­sia.

The com­pany ad­mit­ted it had more work to do in mon­i­tor­ing ad­verts, and said it would cre­ate safe­guards to pre­vent sim­i­lar in­ci­dents.

Face­book’s fail­ure to mod­er­ate hate­ful, of­fen­sive and vi­o­lent ma­te­rial on its plat­form has drawn crit­i­cism from govern­ments and users. The so­cial net­work has promised to hire 3,000 more staff to mod­er­ate the ma­te­rial.

Other in­ter­net gi­ants have faced sim­i­lar prob­lems, and Marks & Spencer and HSBC with­drew busi­ness from Youtube when they found their ad­verts ap­pear­ing along­side ex­trem­ist videos.

Google was yes­ter­day re­ported to have al­lowed sim­i­lar loop­holes. Re­porters at Buz­zfeed bought ad­ver­tis­ing to ac­com­pany searches in­clud­ing “black peo­ple ruin neigh­bour­hoods.” When they typed: “Why do Jews ruin ev­ery­thing,” Google’s al­go­rithms sug­gested pay­ing for ad­verts to ap­pear next to searches in­clud­ing “evil Jew” and “Jewish con­trol of banks.”

“This vi­o­lates our poli­cies against deroga­tory speech and we have re­moved it,” a Google spokesman said af­ter be­ing sent screen­shots of ad­ver­tis­ing tar­get­ing those who searched “Zion­ists con­trol the world”.

Google re­moved 1.7 bil­lion ad­verts that vi­o­lated its poli­cies in 2016, it said.

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