Facebook mea culpa over antisemitic ad categories

The social network vows to crack down on ad targeting after ProPublica revelations


The chief operating officer of Facebook has announced new measures to police its targeted advertising business, after it was revealed that Facebook technology was allowing people to specifically target ads at users describing themselves as “Jew haters”.

In a public post on the social media site, Sheryl Sandberg wrote of her “disgust… as a Jew, as a mother, and as a human being” at hearing that “if someone self-identified as a ‘Jew-hater’ or said they studied ‘how to burn Jews’ in their profile, those terms showed up as potential targeting options for [Facebook] advertisers.

“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.”

Ms Sandberg also described new measures Facebook would be introducing to “strengthen our ads targeting policies and tools.”

These include “adding more human review and oversight to our automated processes” as well as “tightening our enforcement processes to ensure that content that goes against our community standards cannot be used to target ads."

Ms Sandberg added: “People wrote these deeply offensive terms into the education and employer write-in fields and because these terms were used so infrequently, we did not discover this.”

She credited the ProPublica news website for bringing the issue to Facebook's attention.

“We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way – and that is on us," Ms Sandberg said. "And we did not find it ourselves – and that is also on us.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), America’s top organisation dedicated to fighting antisemitism, praised Ms Sandberg’s statement.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, said: “We spoke to Facebook last week to understand what happened and asked for detailed steps they'd take to prevent this sort of hateful ad-targeting.

“We are glad that they are taking immediate, meaningful action, and ADL will continue to hold tech companies accountable for following through on these actions.”

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