A group of investigative journalists who tested Facebook’s advertising tool claim they were able to run ads targeting “Jew haters” within 15 minutes, and that the company only did anything to remove the anti-Semitic categories after Facebook was directly questioned.
ProPublica learned that advertisers on Facebook could direct their pitch to thousands of people who expressed interest in anti-Semitic topics, such as “History of ‘why jews ruin the world,’” “How to burn jews,” or “Jew hater.” And interestingly enough, ProPublica learned that these particular categories were real since the company allowed reporters to pay $30 to target those groups with three “promoted posts.” In 15 minutes, all three ads targeting openly racist Facebook users were approved.
After the company was contacted, the categories were finally removed, but who is to say that other racist topics aren't available under the company’s advertising tool?
While Facebook is a private organization and should be allowed to follow its own guidelines and policies, it shouldn't be immune to criticism and to calls for boycott when it’s found to offer a safe haven to people who spread and market racist or hateful ideologies within its pages.
Claiming that it would explore ways to fix this issue, Facebook only acted on the racist ads bought by ProPublica after the group reached out for comment, showing that the firm doesn’t appear to have any program or protocol in place to tackle accounts posting racist ads using its platform in a more direct way.
In this case, one could argue that while Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has done a lot to condemn racism publicly, his company may not be tagging along, offering bigoted individuals a platform to spread their hateful ideas with other Facebook users.
At a time when Facebook is under the spotlight for saying that Russian firms were able to use fake accounts to buy ads spreading anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments, it's clear that the company's commitment to fighting white supremacy should be questioned.
As social justice advocates like ourselves and others use the firm's platform to share our opinions and bring more people to our cause, we now must know whether the firm will respond to this new discovery either by changing how it reviews and approves its ads or by staying quiet in the face of criticism. If the company chooses the latter, that means they are ready to lose their standing among the majority of their users. And that would deal a crushing blow to the social network.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith