Facebook is considering putting limits on which user details advertisers can target

Advertisers may not be able to micro-target certain fields.
Advertisers may not be able to micro-target certain fields.
Image: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer
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Following a ProPublica report that advertisers on Facebook can target users who list things like “Jew hater” and “How to burn jews” as their interests on the platform, the company is considering putting limits on which user details advertisers can target. It is also considering adding an extra review step to make sure interests that amount to hate speech don’t make it onto the ad platform.

“Our teams are considering things like limiting the total number of fields available or adding more reviews of fields before they show up in ads creation,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in an email.

Facebook said on Sept. 14 that it had already removed certain fields on a temporary basis while the company assesses the issue, and now the company is apparently considering whether to block certain fields from the ad interface long term. The fields could include details like job title, field of study, or employer, though it is not immediately clear which of those Facebook is reviewing. It’s also not yet clear whether a new review process would include checks for hate speech by humans or algorithms or both.

ProPublica discovered that racist interests could be targeted after paying $30 to promote a post, then searching through which user interests it could target. In addition to those listed above, ProPublica found that it could target users who listed “History of why jews ruin the world,” and the “Nazi Party” as their employer.

Shortly after it published its findings, Slate found even more racist interests that could be targeted by advertisers. Those included “How kill jewish,” “Killing Bitches,” and “Killing Hajis” under field of study, and “Kill Muslimic Radicals” and “Ku-Klux-Klan
” as employers.

In a statement published Sept. 14, Facebook said it had removed the racist interests ProPublica identified on its ad platform, and that it would work to make sure such interests can’t be targeted by advertisers in the future.

“As people fill in their education or employer on their profile, we have found a small percentage of people who have entered offensive responses, in violation of our policies,” the company said. “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. We want Facebook to be a safe place for people and businesses, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to keep hate off Facebook.”