Facebook to fix system which tried to suggest ads for ‘faggots’

Stephen Gray February 27, 2012
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Facebook has confirmed to today it will be introducing a fix on an automated system which suggests advertisers try to use racial and gay slurs, including ‘faggot’ and ‘sissy’, to target customers.

The system asks advertisers to draw up a list of the keywords that reflect their target customer’s online activity before they post an ad.

When a new advert is set up with this list, the system automatically generates some related terms it thinks they should consider using.

But as Darren Hemmings, blogging on the Music Ally website, found to his surprise this month, some keywords prompted Facebook to suggest searching for ‘faggot (slang)’.

He said: “I was left speechless […] Is this really a word Facebook should be using within its platform – a word I could probably get fired and/or arrested for using in work or on the street?”

Facebook does already ban some words on the ad targeting system, which generates the related keywords automatically.

Adverts have to be approved by a Facebook employee and if such an advert were filed it would breach the network’s advertising policies so would appear to stand little chance of going live on the site.

But as Hemmings said: “Showing me hate terms for the very people I am trying to target isn’t just offensive – its plain stupid. I’m not gay, but if I were and I saw that being offered as a term supposedly related to various gay artists, I’m pretty sure my anger would be even greater than it is now.”

The examples published on the Music Ally blog include numerous gay and racial slurs that have been left off the blacklist and that Facebook said today it would be taking action on.

Hemmings pointed out that since ‘faggot’ was a suggested interest, if he were to add it to his keyword list, the system ought to give some further recommendations.

Having taken the system’s advice on the test advert and searched by ‘faggot’, Facebook then suggested he also search by ‘sissy’, ‘slut’ and ‘c***’.

Hemming also wrote that it was possible to file advert requests using racial slurs as initial keywords.

On entering the word ‘n****r’, Facebook suggests a list of related terms derogatory to Jewish and Chinese people, though it is not clear whether these terms can be come to through inoffensive keywords.

A spokesperson for the social media giant told “Facebook does not tolerate hate speech, discrimination or bullying against any individual or group of people.

“To ensure our advertising targeting tool is used appropriately, we have a list of blacklisted words which advertisers cannot target against.

“We are looking into the specific examples raised and hope to have a fix in place as soon as possible.”

More: Facebook, faggot, gay slur, Internet, online, slur

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