Facebook automatically generates categories advertisers can target, such as "jogger" and "activist", based on what it observes in users' profiles.
Although the anti-Semitic categories presented to the ProPublica journalists represented too few users to enable an ad campaign on their own, Facebook did recommend additional categories such as "Second Amendment", suggesting a link between those who hold anti-Semitic views and have an interest in firearms.
ProPublica shared a screenshot of the anti-Semitic targeting that was available through Facebook's ad portal.
However, he said, there were times when information appeared on Facebook that violated its standards.
Facebook has since shut down these fake accounts, but not before they were able to post around 3000 adverts. The news website also found that after it reported the matter to Facebook, the hate topics were removed.
The criticism of Facebook's advertising policies shows no sign of abating, particularly since recent revelations about fake news sites operating out of Russian Federation posting ads on its platform.
The nasty ad targeting was uncovered by ProPublica, a "nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force".
The anti-Semitic categories were relatively small-3,194 users for the S.S. and 2,449 for Nazi Party, for instance-and a spokesperson says the use of these advertising categories for campaigns is not widespread. After being contacted about the successful ad buys, Facebook said it would remove the audiences, which had been created by an algorithm, not a Facebook employee.
But other news reports, including one in Slate magazine, then discovered that hateful topics were more widespread in the ad system's targeting capabilities. But Facebook's algorithms had suggestions to boost the audience size, including to people who like gun rights.
Considering all these elements, Facebook might soon have to draw a clearer line between not allowing hate speech on and not discriminating groups of people regardless of their thoughts and beliefs.
An employee told ProPublica that the worrisome targeting categories were rarely used and a spokesperson said that they have been removed. Initially, CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed critics' assertion that Facebook helped sway the vote in President Donald Trump's vote as a "pretty insane idea".