Facebook and Google loophole allowed adverts to target racists
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.