Facebook COO says ‘hate has no place’ on website after ads appeal to racists

facebook stories on desktop tested sign
Panithan Fakseemuang / 123RF
Targeted ads on Facebook allow businesses to reach specific audiences — but now the platform is apologizing after a no-profit organization demonstrated how the feature could be used to target users who call themselves “jew-hater” or other user-generated slurs. Facebook disabled the targeting option entirely last week after ProPublica shared a screenshot that showed a potential ad specifically targeting users with antisemitic views, and now the network is tightening advertising standards and adding more human oversight as a result.

“Hate has no place on Facebook – and as a Jew, as a mother, and as a human being, I know the damage that can come from hate,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, wrote in a post on Wednesday, September 20. “The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part. We removed them, and when that was not totally effective, we disabled that targeting section in our ad systems.”

Targeted advertising allows businesses to choose who their audience is — for example, a wedding photographer can choose to only show their ad to newly engaged couples living within their region. The problem is that the data comes from Facebook bios — and users can put whatever they want into those fields.

In the example shared by ProPublica, apparently, some 2,274 people listed “Jew hater” as their field of study in the education section. Since enough users manually typed in that option into the field, the category pops up when searching for specific demographics for ad targeting.

ProPublica said the audience size for just the single term was too small for Facebook to allow an ad, but they found several other categories by searching “Jew h” including “how to burn Jews.” According to the organization, the auto-suggest even suggested the category for “Hitler did nothing wrong” after typing in “Hitler.”

Facebook says that targeting an ad based on race, ethnicity, and origin — as well as factors like religion, sexual orientation, and disabilities — has always been against its advertising policies, but the platform is now clarifying those guidelines and enhancing how violations are enforced. More human oversight will also be added to the process, in addition to the artificially intelligent software Facebook tested earlier this year.

The social network says it has already reinstated 5,000 targeting terms that meet community standards but will continue to conduct a manual review of whatever new targeting options result from users typing in their own phrases. Finally, Facebook says it is creating a program that allows users to report ad abuse.

This isn’t the first time a study by ProPublica, an organization that aims “to expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by the government, business, and other institutions,” has resulted in policy changes. A year ago, the same organization was able to buy an ad that violated laws against housing discrimination by blocking specific ethnicities from seeing the ad. Facebook later removed the ability to exclude ethnicities in housing, credit, and employment ads.

Product Review

Gloriously gory and fantastically fluid: Mortal Kombat 11 is the best one yet

Mortal Kombatt 11 reinforces NetherRealm Studios’ status as the greatest western fighting developer on the planet, building on what made Mortal Kombat X so great while adding in a few new tricks.
Home Theater

Google brings ad-supported YouTube Music to its Google Home speakers

Hot on the heels of Amazon's announcement that it's adding a free version of its Amazon Music service to Alexa-powered speakers, Google is adding a free, ad-supported version of YouTube Music to Google Home smart speakers.

Mortal Kombat 11 DLC characters reportedly leaked: Who’s next after Shang Tsung?

A datamine on Mortal Kombat 11 reportedly revealed all the DLC characters that will be added to the game's expansive roster. The leak corroborates the hint that the anti-hero Spawn is on his way to joining the fighting game.

Spruce up your Lenovo smartphone with the best Moto Mods for the Moto Z-series

Moto Mods, the snap-on accessories compatible with Lenovo's Moto Z-series smartphones add a lot of value without adding a lot of bulk. Looking to try one out? Here are a few of our favorite Moto Mods.
Social Media

How to download Instagram Stories on iOS, Android, and desktop

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.
Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went down worldwide for 2 hours this morning

Chaos erupted on the internet this morning, as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp all went down from 6:30 a.m. to approximately 9 a.m. Thousands of users were unable to access the sites or send or receive Whatsapp messages.

Skype screen sharing for mobile will let you share your swipes on dating apps

Skype is prepping the launch of screen sharing for mobile so you can share your swipes on dating apps, shop with buddies, or, perhaps, show a PowerPoint presentation to coworkers. It's in beta just now, but anyone can try it.
Social Media

Facebook toys with mixing Stories and News Feed into one swipeable carousel

Facebook's News Feed could look a lot like Stories if a prototype the social media giant is working on rolls out to users. The design change mixes Stories and News Feed posts into a full-screen slideshow that users swipe left to navigate.
Social Media

No more moon showers as Facebook Messenger’s dark mode gets official rollout

Facebook Messenger launched a dark mode last month, but to activate it you had to message the crescent moon to someone. Now it's been rolled out officially, and it can be accessed in a far more sensible way — via settings.

Twitter has revealed a launch date for its handy hide replies features

Twitter has revealed a launch date for a feature that lets users hide replies to their tweets. The hope is that it will help the original poster filter out offensive or irrelevant content from conversation threads.
Smart Home

Oh, Zuck, no! Facebook rumored to be creating a voice assistant to rival Alexa

Facebook hasn't been a big player in the smart speaker market, but that may be changing: The social media giant is reportedly working on a digital assistant to compete against Alexa and others.
Social Media

Facebook says it unintentionally uploaded email contacts of 1.5 million users

Facebook says that over the last two years it unintentionally uploaded the email contacts of 1.5 million users as they signed up to the social networking service. The process has ended and the email addresses are being deleted.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.

After controversial video, China bans ‘Leica’ on social media

A video that referenced Tiananmen Square got the name of the camera company Leica banned from the social media platform Weibo. Leica says the video wasn't an officially sanctioned promotion.