A BBC investigation has uncovered a flaw in Twitter’s ad tool that allows ads to be directed to users who have posted or searched discriminatory words related to hate speech.
Like other social media platforms, Twitter gathers data on its users to create a profile of the person, such as their interests and political views.
This data is collected from the things they post, like, watch and share. Keywords can then be used to match ads to a profile in order to target very specific audiences.
The investigation found that it was possible to advertise to people using the term neo-Nazis. The ad tool indicated a potential audience of 67,000 to 81,000 people using that particular keyword.
In one of its tests, the BBC found that using the keywords islamophobes, islamaphobia, islamophobic and #islamophobic had a potential to reach 92,900 to 114,000 Twitter users.
It also found vulnerable groups could be targeted by ads. For example, the BBC was able to run an advert targeting an audience of 13- to 24-year-olds using the keywords anorexic, bulimic, anorexia and bulimia.
The tool estimated that ad would reach 20,000 users.
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Twitter has apologised for failing to exclude these discriminatory keyword terms from its ad tool.
This revelation comes amid growing concern over social media’s role in spreading hate speech, misinformation and influencing politics.
Responding to the findings, the social network said: “Our 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.
“We’re very sorry this happened and as soon as we were made aware of the issue, we rectified it. We continue to enforce our ads policies, including restricting the promotion of content in a wide range of areas, including inappropriate content targeting minors.”