Facebook allowed advertisers to target users interested in Nazism

Its efforts to curb racism in ad targeting fell short.

Facebook still has some work to do if it wants to eliminate racist criteria from its ad targeting. The company has pulled numerous audience groupings from its ad plaform after the LA Times discovered that advertisers could target ads for people interested in racist leaders and groups, including Nazi leader slike Joseph Goebbels and a neo-Nazi punk band. These potentially reached hundreds of thousands of users. Company spokesman Joe Osborne said these ad categories were rarely used and typically focused on historical material, but he also acknowledged that the company should have spotted them sooner and could do better.

"While we have an ongoing review of our targeting options, we clearly need to do more," Osborne said. He added that Facebook was "taking a broader look" at both its policies and its ability to detect categories.

Some of the categories stayed put, typically because they overlapped with categories that have innocuous meanings.

The company does use human oversight to verify its ad categories, and in summer 2018 pulled 5,000 categories that could be used for discrimination. It already blocks targeting based on some obvious terms. However, that method clearly left gaps -- and there's a concern that racist groups might search for terms Facebook hasn't banned in order to target potential recruits to their cause.