September 15, 2017 08:40 GMT by nytimes.com

Fearing Anti-Semitic Speech, Facebook Limits Audience Targeting

Fearing Anti-Semitic Speech, Facebook Limits Audience Targeting

After a report that it allowed advertisers to seek out users interested in topics like “Jew hater,” Facebook also removed self-reported targeting fields.

Facebook has said it will restrict how advertisers target their audiences on the social network after a report said some were able to seek out self-described “Jew haters.”

In a statement dated Thursday, the company also said it would prevent users from indicating what type of ads they would like to see in an attempt to curb hate speech, adding that it had “no place on our platform.”

The moves came in response to a ProPublica investigation that revealed that Facebook’s self-service ad-buying platform allowed advertisers to direct ads to the newsfeeds of about 2,300 users who said they were interested in anti-Semitic subjects.

Reporters from ProPublica tested Facebook advertising categories to see whether they could buy ads aimed at Facebook users who expressed interest in topics like “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” and “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’” The reporters paid $30 to ensure groups affiliated with these anti-Semitic categories saw promoted ProPublica posts in their Facebook news feeds.

Facebook approved the posts within 15 minutes, according to the ProPublica investigation.

The social network said Friday that its 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.”

Facebook added that “to help ensure that targeting is not used for discriminatory purposes, we are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue.”

The news comes as Facebook faces scrutiny for its role in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Last week its representatives briefed the Senate and House intelligence committees, which are investigating Russian intervention in the election. The company told congressional investigators that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of ads on hot-button issues directed by a Russian company with links to the Kremlin.

Representatives from Facebook said the company had sold the ads to a pro-Kremlin Russian company that was seeking an audience of voters in the United States during last year’s election campaign.

The ads — about 3,000 of them — focused on divisive topics like gay rights, gun control, race and immigration, and they were linked to 470 fake accounts and pages that it subsequently took down, according to Facebook’s chief security officer.

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