Facebook has been forced to apologise after its advertising algorithm was found to be allowing advertisers to target antisemites whose interests were summarised by the algorithm as: “Jew hater”, “How to burn Jews”, or “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world’”. That this quirk of Facebook’s advertising algorithm had gone unnoticed is somewhat scandalous, but the real scandal is what it reveals about Facebook.
The fact that Facebook’s algorithm has managed to accidentally identify antisemites on the platform shows how easy it is to find Facebook users who hate Jews. Many antisemites on Facebook make no effort at all to conceal or disguise their hatred, brazenly sharing neo-Nazi, far-left or Islamist antisemitic material. What is so shameful is not that these antisemites exist, but that Facebook evidently can identify them and chooses not to expel them from its social networking platform.
Perhaps even more outrageous is that Facebook will have been collecting money from advertisers seeking to target antisemites, perhaps to invite them to rallies or to share antisemitic conspiracy myths with them, and Facebook has not only made that possible, it has charged a fee for the service. Despite apologising when caught out, Facebook has not revealed how much money it made, or what will be done with the proceeds.
The reasons that Facebook appears not to be putting much effort into expelling antisemites, or donating its profits from the adverts, may be related. Facebook is funded by the advertising it sells, which depends on continued growth in the number of its users, and the ability to reliably target all of those users according to their interests. Facebook has necessarily developed advanced algorithms for profiling its users, but using them to excise antisemites, extremists and other undesirable people from its social networking platform could start to slightly dent the growth in the number of its users, which is a key metric of the company’s success and its attractiveness as an advertising platform.