Twitter apologises for letting ads target neo-Nazis

Hasan Chowdhury
Advertisers were able to target users on Twitter based on specific keywords they would use such as “transphobic” and “white supremacists”.    - AP

Twitter has apologised for allowing ads on its service that micro-target neo-Nazis and homophobes as it grapples with the spread of hate groups online.

Advertisers were able to target users on Twitter based on specific keywords they would use such as “transphobic” and “white supremacists” when posting about or searching for certain topics. 

The company’s ads business works by creating data profiles of users based on their activity on Twitter, including posts made by users, as well as things they like, watch and retweet. 

Advertisers are then able to use this data to target people with their ads. According to the BBC, using the term “neo-Nazi” as an advertisers would target the ad to an audience of up to 81,000 people in the UK alone. 

Using the keywords “islamophobes”, “islamophobia” and other related terms would reach between 92,900 and 114,000 accounts using Twitter’s ads tool. 

The social media firm has since admitted that it had made “an error” in failing to prevent the discriminatory terms from being used in ads targeting. 

In recent months, the company has been pressured into taking action on micro-targeting, a controversial practice that shows different messages to different people. 

In November, the company cracked down on micro-targeted political ads in the run up to the General Election, but a lack of scrutiny on other ads has raised concerns about the ads and  messaging being shown to hate groups on Twitter. 

"Twitter has specific policies related to keyword targeting, which exist to protect the public conversation. Preventative measures include banning certain sensitive or discriminatory terms, which we update on a continuous basis,” a Twitter spokesperson said. 

“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.”