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Facebook profiles can be obnoxious. With no vetting procedures on the information provided for education or employment, friends can say they attended Hogwarts or that they work at NASA despite failing high school maths.
But while some have been using these self-reporting fields to make harmless jokes, others have been using them to spew hatred — and it’s been revealed that advertisers could have specifically targeted these individuals.
On Thursday, a report by Propublica revealed that advertisers, who have the ability to select which demographic they’d like to target, have been able to select the likes of “Jew hater”, “how to burn Jews”, and “history of ‘why Jews ruin the world'” as groups to which they promote their products.
Facebook has since disabled self-reported targeting fields “until [it has] the right processes in place to help prevent this issue”, a statement read.
The company has said that the number of people in these segments was “incredibly low” and only a small number of people were targeted with potentially dangerous ads.
Facebook has since disabled self-reported targeting fields until it has the right processes in place to help prevent this issue
Probulica found that while “how to burn Jews” only reached two people, “Nazi party” reached 2449 people, and “German Schutzstaffel” (or Nazi SS) reached over 3000.
The news of these segments comes in the midst of Facebook’s other ad controversy, which saw the company receive over US$100 000 from Russian ads during the 2016 US election.
The FBI are currently investigating the extent of Russian interference in the election, and according to some reports, Facebook may not even know the extent of its own involvement. This is because those who purchased these ads may have bypassed the company’s employees with the website’s self-service advertising tool.
Facebook’s ad targeting also garnered criticism last year when Probublica found that it was able to block people of different races from viewing its ads.