As revealed in a big piece from ProPublica, Facebook’s advertising systems used to make it very easy to target white supremacists and neo-Nazis with anti-Semitic posts. Apparently, right up until this week, advertisers on Facebook could direct their content specifically to people who had expressed interest in pre-made categories like “jew hater” and “how to burn jews,” with ProPublica testing this out by actually buying ads in those categories that were approved by Facebook within minutes. Basically, all anyone had to do was tell Facebook that it wanted to sell some guns or Confederate flags to anti-Semites, and the site would be totally fine with it.
ProPublica contacted Facebook about this, and it explained that these anti-Semitic advertising categories were not put in place by openly racist programmers. A spokesperson explained that advertising categories are automatically generated based on what users list as their job, their “field of study,” or just a general interest, and after ProPublica uncovered this stuff, Facebook removed the categories in question and explained that it would look into how to fix this—either by limiting the specific categories that come up or by actually looking at the ones that are available to ad buyers.
Of course, this all points toward a larger issue: Enough people have anti-Semitic content listed on their Facebook pages that stuff about hating Jewish people can pop up on the advertising platform. The system pulling those things up when it probably shouldn’t is a problem, but the bigger problem is that a bunch of Nazis and aspiring Nazis are hanging out on Facebook, openly declaring how racist they are.
The full ProPublica piece has more details on how this all works, and you can check it out at this link.