By David Ingram
Facebook Inc said on Thursday it was temporarily disabling the ability of advertisers to target based on people’s self-reported education and job information after a report that those features allowed targeting based on anti-Semitic topics.
ProPublica, a non-profit news organization based in New York, reported hours earlier that Facebook’s self-service ad-buying platform had allowed marketers to target ads at people who, on their Facebook profile, had listed phrases such as “Jew hater” as their field of study or work.
Some 2,300 people had expressed interest in the topics “Jew hater,” “how to burn Jews” and “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world’,” according to ProPublica’s investigation.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, confirmed the ProPublica investigation.
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.
“We are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue,” Facebook said in a statement late on Thursday.
“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,” it said.
Facebook initially responded to the ProPublica report by removing the topics in question from its ad system. However other news reports, including from Slate magazine, then discovered that hateful topics were more widespread in the ad system’s targeting capabilities.
As Facebook has given advertisers greater power to micro-target their messages using a self-service platform, the company has at times failed to ensure they comply with its terms and conditions.
Last year, ProPublica reported that Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude users by race when running housing or other ads, despite a prohibition on such ads under the U.S. Fair Housing Act 1969.
Facebook said last week an operation likely based in Russia spent $100,000 on thousands of U.S. ads promoting social and political messages over a two-year period through May, fueling concerns about foreign meddling in U.S. elections.
The company said it shut down 470 “inauthentic” accounts as part of an internal investigation into those ads.
Facebook and rival Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, dominate the fast-growing market for online advertising, in part because they let marketers target their ads based on huge volumes of data.
Facebook reported $27.6 billion in 2016 revenue, the vast majority from advertising.
Ad campaigns that used the anti-Semitic categories on Facebook were not widespread, the company said.
“Given that the number of people in these segments was incredibly low, an extremely small number of people were targeted in these campaigns,” Facebook said.
One change Facebook said it was considering was adding more thorough reviews of targeting categories before they show up in the self-service platform.