Facebook says sorry for anti-Semitic ads

Sheryl Sandberg called Facebook's ad-targeting embarrassment 'totally inappropriate and a fail on our part'

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg says anti-Semitic targeting was 'a fail on our part'

"We are working to create a program to encourage people on Facebook to report potential abuses of our ads system to us directly", Sandberg said.

It was always against the rules, but Facebook will be employing more checks to stop offenders, she wrote.

The number of people in these kinds of Facebook groups is usually too small to merit targeting for an ad - Facebook's ad-selling portal, for example, reports about 2,200 "Jew haters". The company will also devote more resources to ensuring that "content that goes against our community standards can not be used to target ads", and add more human oversight to its advertising system more broadly.

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Sheryl Sandberg is "disgusted and disappointed" that Facebook was helping advertisers target anti-Semitic users.

She also reiterated that hate has no place on Facebook. Targeting people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity, or disabilities or diseases, is prohibited on the platform. After restricting self-reported fields for education and profession, Facebook will now restore approximately 5,000 of the most popular responses, all of which have now been reviewed to ensure they don't violate company standards.

Previously, advertisers could direct their ads toward anti-semitic individuals who listed in their Facebook profiles "how to burn Jews" and other bigoted terms, ProPublica revealed.

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The announcement and mea culpa come amid increased scrutiny of Facebook's advertising tools.

Adding more people to the mix might help, since humans are likely better at knowing when something is offensive and when something isn't.

The changes come at a moment when Facebook is reckoning with a growing number of nefarious ways its largely automated systems can be manipulated. More importantly, the ProPublica investigation focused on offensive targeting rather than offensive content, and information about how a given ad was targeted is not accessible to users. You have to wonder: If there were more women or under-represented minorities on Facebook's engineering product teams, would this flawed ad tech have even seen the light of day?

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