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Facebook amps up ads oversight in response to 'Jew haters'

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says she was disgusted her company's systems had allowed that type of targeted advertising.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO, said her company allowing ads targeted at "Jew haters" is unacceptable.

James Martin/CNET

Until recently, Facebook's mission statement was to make the world more open and connected. What the company probably didn't expect was that it would also become a breeding ground for hate.

That's the issue the Silicon Valley internet behemoth is grappling with, following a ProPublica report last week that found marketers were able to target advertisements at people categorized as "Jew haters." The revelations caused an uproar, sparking a debate about online ads and tech companies' responsibilities.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said the social network is responding to these criticisms by increasing enforcement against hateful ads and also increasing oversight of the automated processes. This is important because, as many people theorize and Sandberg suggests, the automated systems that come up with ad targeting groups such as "mothers," "people who live in San Francisco" and "birders" were likely responsible for creating a "Jew haters" category too. 

"We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way -- and that is on us," she wrote. "And we did not find it ourselves -- and that is also on us."

Finally, Sandberg said Facebook is also going to encourage people to alert the company about abuses of its ads system.

She also reiterated that hate has no place on Facebook.

"Seeing those words made me disgusted and disappointed -- disgusted by these sentiments and disappointed that our systems allowed this," she wrote. "As a Jew, as a mother, and as a human being, I know the damage that can come from hate. The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part."

The Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights group that has been increasing its efforts in Silicon Valley, said in a statement that it had been in contact with Facebook and was pleased to see what it said was a swift response. "We are glad that they are taking immediate, meaningful action, and ADL will continue to hold tech companies accountable for following through on these actions," said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement.

You can read Sandberg's full post below:

Last week we temporarily disabled some of our ads tools following news reports that slurs or other offensive language...

Posted by Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday, September 20, 2017