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Facebook let advertisers target users interested in infamous Nazis

Company admits topics 'should have been caught and removed sooner.'


Mikael Thalen


Posted on Feb 21, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 6:36 pm CDT

Facebook allowed advertisers to target individuals interested in numerous Nazi figures as well as music supportive of the Third Reich, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Analysis by the Times of the social media site’s advertising system found that users could be targeted based on several distinct topics such as “Joseph Goebbels,” the propaganda minister for Adolf Hitler’s regime.

Other approved topics included “Heinrich Himmler,” a Nazi officer who played a central role in the Holocaust, “Josef Mengele,” a physician who performed deadly human experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and British neo-Nazi punk band “Skrewdriver.”

The Times states that with just $25, the ads were able to collectively reach “4,153 users in 24 hours.”

A Los Angeles musician alerted the Times to the issue after attempting to promote a concert for his punk band on Facebook last year.

“When he typed ‘black metal’ into Facebook’s ad portal, he said he was disturbed to discover that the company suggested he also pay to target users interested in ‘National Socialist black metal’—a potential audience numbering in the hundreds of thousands,” The Times‘ Sam Dean writes.

In response to the discovery, Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne admitted to the Times that the categories should not have been available to advertisers.

“Most of these targeting options are against our policies and should have been caught and removed sooner,” Osborne said. “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.”

The incident follows a 2017 report from ProPublica that found user-generated phrases such as “Jew hater” and “Hitler did nothing wrong” were also available as topics for advertisers. Facebook promised soon after that all of its ad targeting topics would be reviewed by humans.

Facebook had previously blocked the terms “Hitler,” “Holocaust,” “Nazi,” and “white supremacy.”

H/T the Los Angeles Times

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*First Published: Feb 21, 2019, 1:58 pm CST