Facebook allowed advertisers to target people interested in Nazis

Advertisers could reach people interested in perpetrators of the Holocaust and neo-Nazi music, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
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Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

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Facebook, under pressure to combat hate speech, has landed in hot water again for the audiences it allows advertisers to target.

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that advertisers were able to target people interested in perpetuators of the Holocaust, including Joseph Goebbels, Josef Mengele and Heinrich Himmler to hundreds of thousands of users. Advertisers could also reach people interested in neo-Nazi bands such as Skrewdriver, according to the newspaper, which received a tip from a local musician.

Facebook said it would remove the audiences from its ads platform. 

"Most of these targeting options are against our policies and should have been caught and removed sooner," Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said in a statement. "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."

CNET conducted a search for some of the terms mentioned in the LA Times' report on Facebook's ad platform and they appear to have been removed. 

Advertisers could also target people interested in nationalism, the German word for refugee and NPD Group, which is a far-right German political party tied to neo-Nazism but also a US market research firm, according to the LA Times. Those ad targeting options did not violate the social network's policies, according to Facebook.

This isn't the first time the social network has faced criticism for the advertisements it allows. ProPublica reported in 2017 that advertisers could target ads interested in "Jew hater," "How to burn jews," or, "History of 'why jews ruin the world.'"

In response, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg apologized and the social network vowed to increase oversight of its ads platform. 

Originally published at 3:07 p.m. PT

Update, 3:57 p.m. PT: Includes statement from Facebook.