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Twitter fails to fix ad-targeting issue that allowed people to reach Nazi and homophobic audiences

An issue with Twitter’s ad targeting tool that allowed users to target hate groups persists despite the company’s claim it had been rectified.

A report from Gizmodo reveals that keywords associated with several hate groups, including phrases like ‘neonazis’ and ‘nazbol’ were still able to be used for targeting advertisements on the platform.

Gizmodo says it was also able to use the tool to run ads based on the exact same keywords used by a prior report from the BBC from last week that discovered Twitter’s ad platform allowed users to reach groups via phrases like ‘white supremacists’ or ‘transphobic’ and ‘anti-gay.’

Twitter apologized after the report, claiming it had fixed the issues.

Twitter's ad targeting interface is letting users reach Nazis and other hate groups by using keywords like 'white supremacist' or 'anti-gay' according two recent reports

Twitter’s ad targeting interface is letting users reach Nazis and other hate groups by using keywords like ‘white supremacist’ or ‘anti-gay’ according two recent reports

‘Preventative measures include banning certain sensitive or discriminatory terms, which we update on a continuous basis… In this instance, some of these terms were permitted for targeting purposes. This was an error,’ Twitter said in a statement. 

‘We’re very sorry this happened and as soon as we were made aware of the issue, we rectified it.’ 

In response to Gizmodo’s report, Twitter says that the keywords entered into its targeted ads, though seemingly accepted by the platform, did not actually target groups.

‘Many of the search words listed are indeed prohibited as hateful content and will not actually register as keywords for the ad once it’s published,’ Twitter told Gizmodo in a statement. 

‘This is an automated process in the next step before final posting. We understand the user experience is not as intuitive as it should be and we’re working to explore ways to simplify it.’

As noted in the investigation, however, that doesn’t account for the fact that when published, Gizmodo’s ads, which only featured words associated with hate groups, were still able to seen be hundreds of people.

The company also may have disabled ad targeting altogether for lesser dollar amounts in the interim.

Gizmodo reports that after its correspondence with the platform, subsequent attempts at sending out ad campaigns received zero impressions even when the attempt didn’t contain any offensive phrases.

In a test from last week, the BBC reports that it was able to use keywords like ‘neo-Nazi’ to actually reach Twitter users in an ad campaign. 

A test that ran a generic ad wishing users a happy New Year went live for several hours and reached 37 users before being taken down, the BBC says. 

The report also said was able to target between 67,000 to 81,000 users in the UK who were associated with the keyword.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (pictured above) has come under fire for the platform's role in promoting hate speech throughout the last year and has worked to roll out new policies and tools to mitigate toxic content

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (pictured above) has come under fire for the platform’s role in promoting hate speech throughout the last year and has worked to roll out new policies and tools to mitigate toxic content

Twitter’s ad targeting tool was also documented being able to reach sensitive groups like users with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia and was even able to narrow and age range of between 13 to 24-years-old on those users.

One activist interviewed by the BBC says he believes that the ability to target to sensitive groups such as people with eating disorders has been abused by companies looking to hawk dietary supplements or other dubious products. 

WHAT IS TWITTER’S NEW POLICY ON ‘DEHUMANIZING’ CONTENT? 

A new policy will look to crack down on hate speech targeted at specific religious groups on Twitter.

The policy task users with flagging content that they think is hateful at which point the post will be reviewed by Twitter’s moderators. 

Tweets that predate the policy change will also be removed though users will not be suspended. 

The platform will continue to assess how and when to apply the new rules and said it is giving moderators longer and more robust training.  

‘I’ve been talking about my eating disorder on social media for a few years now and been targeted many times with adverts based on dietary supplements, weight loss supplements, spinal corrective surgery,’ Daniel Magson, chairman of the group Anorexia and Bulimia Care told the BBC.

The fear behind being able to reach Nazis or other hate groups centers on the ability to use targeted ads as a tool for either recruiting new people into racists organizations or promote a hateful message.

Twitter has come under fire for its shortcomings in mitigating hate speech on its platform throughout the past two years and has worked to change policies and bolster detection efforts.  

Last year it banned tweets that are found to be targeting specific religious groups, specifically if they ‘dehumanize others on the basis of religion.’

Those protections for religious groups followed the decision to weed out hate speech emanating from political figures. 

Posts by political figures found to be in violation of Twitter’s policy are now flagged by a type of public consent notice which must be read and clicked through before users can access the underlying tweet.

The new policy also curbs the flagged tweets’ reach, making it less likely to be seen by a large number of users.

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