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Facebook allows advertisers to target ‘Nazi fans’, despite promises of system review by humans

Facebook allows advertisers to target ‘Nazi fans’, despite promises of system review by humans
Facebook continues to permit ads on its platform targeting supposedly-forbidden groups like neo-Nazis, a recent investigation found – despite the company’s promises that humans now review and sign off on all ad categories.

For just $25, an advertiser could reach hundreds of thousands of users interested in Josef Goebbels –ironically, the chief propagandist of the Third Reich– along with SS chief Heinrich Himmler and cartoonishly evil concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele, the Los Angeles Times discovered when it attempted to target neo-Nazi groups, after a tip from a local musician who was horrified to find the platform suggesting he expand his band’s audience by reaching out to fans of “National Socialist black metal.” Sure enough, when the Times tried to target fans of skinhead punk band Skrewdriver, the ad platform even suggested a list of topics related to far-right movements in Europe to expand its reach.

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A Facebook spokesperson blamed the innocuous content of the Times ads –consisting of the word “test” or the paper’s logo, rather than swastikas and white power slogans– for failing to set off their internal alarms, even though separate (human) teams allegedly review all ad content and demographic categories before they’re allowed on the social media site. When pressed, Facebook claimed other ads sold under the “Goebbels” and other Nazi categories “linked to historical content,” but would not share further details as to who was using them.

The ads were served on Facebook pages for CNN, BBC, Mother Jones, ABC, and Breitbart, among other mainstream news sites, as well as on “viral”-type pages with generic names like “I Love Movies” and nearly-empty clickbait pages. In 24 hours, they reached 4,153 users – almost a disappointingly small audience, considering how many hundreds of thousands of users were reportedly interested in each of the top Nazis (Mengele was the most popular, with 127,010 fans.)

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Being able to reach so many people with extremist content, existing literally in the same space as legitimate news or non-hateful content, is the biggest danger,” said Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League, expressing concern that Facebook was –once again – “expanding the orbit” of hate.

While we have an ongoing review of our targeting options, we clearly need to do more, so we’re taking a broader look at our policies and detection methods,” Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne told the Times.

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Facebook announced it had removed over 5,000 abuse- or discrimination-perpetuating categories last year, though the Intercept later caught the platform selling ads targeting users interested in “white genocide conspiracy theory” following the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting in November. A year earlier, a ProPublica investigation found the platform selling ads based on phrases like “Jew hater” and “Hitler did nothing wrong.

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