Facebook moves to block offensive terms from targeted advertising campaigns


Advertisers on Facebook no longer can use offensive search terms such as “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews” to target specific audiences, the company said Wednesday.

The new policy comes a week after ProPublica published a story demonstrating how advertisers could reach thousands of Facebook users by entering hateful search terms on the social network’s advertising platform. The ads would reach users whose Facebook profiles included those search terms as a field of interest.

Facebook temporarily disabled the function last week in response to the story but since has reinstated it, having altered its algorithm to prohibit an expanded list of search terms.


“Seeing those words made me disgusted and disappointed — disgusted by these sentiments and disappointed that our systems allowed this,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a post on her company’s social media platform.

“The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part,” she added.

Sandberg said Facebook is strengthening enforcement that prohibits advertisers from using terms that violate the company’s community standards. That includes anything that attacks users based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity, or disabilities or diseases.

“Such targeting has always been in violation of our policies and we are taking more steps to enforce that now,” she said.

Facebook is doing this by adding more human oversight to a process that was largely algorithmic — typically a move of last resort for tech companies whose software often aims to eliminate the need for human intervention. The company also is working to create a system for users to report any abuses to the ad platform.

Facebook has had trouble in the past policing its ads. It admitted earlier this month that it had sold more than $100,000 in ads linked to fake Russian accounts hoping to influence the 2016 election.


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