Facebook’s targeted advertising system is a powerful marketing tool in the right hands. But if someone with less-than-good intentions signs up for an account, bad things can happen. A ProPublica investigation has found that Facebook has virtually no limits on what kind of groups you can target ads at, including out-and-out anti-Semites.

Up until this week (when ProPublica drew attention to it), advertisers on Facebook could target posts at people who liked topics including “jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’”

In ProPublica‘s testing, Facebook approved a $30 ad that targeted three promoted posts at those groups with just 15 minutes of scrutiny. After contacting Facebook separately about the posts, the companies pulled them down and deleted the ad categories. Facebook said that the categories were created algorithmically, rather than by people, and the company would be looking at ways to stop its algorithms from going full Nazi in the future.

“There are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards,” Rob Leathern, product management director at Facebook, told ProPublica. “In this case, we’ve removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.”

View Comments