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Facebook's generation of 'Jew Hater' and other advertising categories prompts system inspection

Facebook's generation of 'Jew Hater' and other advertising categories prompts system inspection
From TechCrunch - September 14, 2017

Facebook automatically generates categories advertisers can target, such as jogger and activist, based on what it observes in users profiles. Usually thats not a problem, but ProPublica found that Facebook had generated anti-Semitic categories such as Jew Hater and Hitler did nothing wrong, which could be targeted for advertising purposes.

The categories were smalla few thousand people totalbut the fact that they existed for official targeting (and in turn, revenue for Facebook) rather than being flagged raises questions about the effectivenessor even existenceof hate speech controls on the platform. Although surely countless posts are flagged and removed successfully, the failures are often conspicuous.

ProPublica, acting on a tip, found that a handful of categories autocompleted themselves when their researchers entered jews h into the advertising category search box. To verify these were real, they bundled a few together and bought an ad targeting them, which indeed went live.

Upon being alerted, Facebook removed the categories and issued a familiar-sounding strongly worded statement about how tough on hate speech the company is:

We dont allow hate speech on Facebook. Our community standards strictly prohibit attacking people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, and we prohibit advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes. However, there are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards. In this case, weve removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so were also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.

The problem occurred because people were listing jew hater and the like in their field of study category, which is of course a good one for guessing what a person might be interested in: meteorology, social sciences, etc. Although the numbers were extremely small, that shouldnt be a barrier to an advertiser looking to reach a very limited group, like owners of a rare dog breed.

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