Facebook Let Advertisers Target Users Interested in Nazis, According to Report

Company's ad targeting comes under fire—again

The Times was able to successfully place ads to hundreds of thousands of users who were interested in infamous Nazis. - Credit by Photo Illustration, Source: Getty Images
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

Facebook is allowing advertisers to target users based on their perceived interest in neo-Nazi terminology, musicians and Holocaust perpetrators, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

According to the Times, which conducted an investigation into the company’s targeting advertising keywords, the social media giant has allowed advertisers to target Facebook users based on the belief that those users are interested in certain neo-Nazi punk bands and the names of perpetrators of the Holocaust.

The Times was able to successfully place ads to hundreds of thousands of users who were interested in Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Josef Mengele—all infamous Nazis who helped perpetrate the Holocaust—as well as a white supremacist band.

Facebook’s automated advertising tools also recommended that Times reporters target users based on a series of other terms related to white supremacist ideology and neo-Nazis.

In the wake of the Times’ reporting, Facebook told the Times that it would pull the targeting options that it flagged and said that it would review its policies.

“Most of these targeting options are against our policies and should have been caught and removed sooner,” a Facebook spokesman told the paper. “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’s ad targeting has come under fire before after news outlets like ProPublica and the Intercept found that its ad platform was allowing advertisers to target users based on anti-Semitic terms. ProPublica also found that Facebook was allowing the placement of discriminatory ads on its platform by letting housing advertisers exclude certain people by their race or ethnicity.

More recently, the company has also come under strain for allowing misinformation about vaccinations to proliferate unchecked on its platform. The Guardian has reported extensively on how Facebook provides anti-vaccination misinformation in its search results and allows advertising from anti-vaccination groups, including by letting advertisers target Facebook users based on their perceived interest in “vaccine controversies.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Facebook continued to allow an Adweek reporter to select “vaccine controversies” as a targeting option on the site’s ad platform.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.