Facebook recently landed in political-relations hot water after admitting that it sold political ads to fake, Russia-linked accounts during the U.S. election, thereby reaching up to 70 million Americans in the process. Now, Facebook, Google, and Twitter are all coming under fire for ad-buying platforms that allow anyone to target racists and anti-Semites by keyword. That’s not a good look by any stretch of the imagination.
In other words, if anyone’s hoping to reach an audience full of white supremacists or Nazis, Google’s search bar would allow advertisers to target these audiences. Buzzfeed News unearthed the disturbing finding regarding Google — including how Google “will suggest additional racist and bigoted terms” during the search process — by actually purchasing an ad campaign based upon the following terms, which also included “Jewish parasites”:
Type “White people ruin,” as a potential advertising keyword into Google’s ad platform, and Google will suggest you run ads next to searches including “black people ruin neighborhoods.” Type “Why do Jews ruin everything,” and Google will suggest you run ads next to searches including “the evil jew” and “jewish control of banks.”
Harvard University’s Nieman Lab tweeted out this screencap to support Buzzfeed’s findings:
In response to Buzzfeed’s story, Google quickly provided a statement: “This violates our policies against derogatory speech and we have removed it.” The response referenced a screencap of “Zionists control the world” as targeted in an ad campaign, but Buzzfeed noted that one unfortunate keyword remained intact: “Blacks destroy everything.”
Elsewhere, ProPublica also purchased an experimental ad and discovered that Facebook was allowing the same sort of searches to take place when advertisers targeted specific audiences:
Until this week, when we asked Facebook about it, the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.'”
Facebook quickly disallowed such keywords from their targeting platform, and Robert Leathern, product management director at Facebook, promised to be more vigilant. “There are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards,” he said. “We know we have more work to do.”
And following these twin debacles, the Daily Beast figured out that Twitter had the same issue while (handily!) telling advertisers how many racists a campaign can reach:
Twitter’s ad platform lets customers choose what it calls “audience features” when creating an advertising campaign, allowing them to target any keyword. Type in “Nazi,” for example, and the platform says in bold lettering that there are 18.6 million users who may respond to that keyword. Twitter does not always reveal the audience size, particularly for terms with two or more words, such as “Jew hater.”
And it only gets worse from there, for Twitter will allow folks to buy an ad targeting the N-word (to reach 14.5 million users) or “wetback” (18.6 million of them). And they provide a “follower look-alike” feature that will quickly bring up accounts like @AdolfHiitler_ and @SecretHitler when anyone simply searches for plain old “Hitler.”
Well, Twitter hasn’t responded to Daily Beast yet, but it’s only a matter of time before that happens. What a mess.