Facebook, Google must act after allowing ads promoting hate speech

By Editorial Board

On Sept. 14, ProPublica released a report stating Facebook’s ad-buying platform enabled advertisers to target users who used hate speech on their profiles. Only a day later, Buzzfeed News reported that Google also had shown a lack of foresight by allowing advertisers to use racist keywords, and its logarithms suggested even more bigoted words. 

These are only two in a string of controversies about ad-buying on the large social media platform. On Sept. 6, Facebook also acknowledged $100,000 worth of advertisements bought from inauthentic accounts likely based in Russia, according to a release from Facebook’s newsroom. 

Each controversy brought forth spokespeople for Google and Facebook denying misuse of their platforms. Google’s Senior Vice President of Advertising and Commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy stated, “We’ve already turned off these [keyword] suggestions, and any ads that made it through, and will work harder to stop this from happening again.”

Facebook Product Management Director Rob Leathern had similar sentiments to ProPublica about the site’s ad-buying platform failing to screen for hate speech. Leathern said, “We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.” 

It’s unsurprising the companies would rush to release a statement once these issues came to light. Google and Facebook did what anybody does after getting caught doing something wrong: damage control.

Dominant media platforms such as Facebook and Google have historically marketed themselves as progressive companies which value diversity and social change. Whether displaying rainbow filters in June for LGBTQ pride or honoring civil rights leaders for Black History Month, Facebook and Google aggressively show their left-leaning users they are socially aware because an “ethical” company sells. 

Facebook and Google have turned caring about social change into a marketing tactic while remaining complacent about how they contribute to bigotry and subversion of the political system. These companies only seem to decide on changes when their reputations may be negatively affected.

If Facebook and Google want their users to believe they are progressive companies committed to the highest corporate ethics, they must prove it with serious changes in the way their policies handle hate speech. This issue cannot be dismissed with a statement on improving functions and moderation—especially with the reports that online platforms like Facebook played a part in the rise of hate groups that congregate online.

The rapid advancement of the internet over a few years gave us new and improved means of communication. Compared to only 20 years ago, the ability to connect with others like we do now seems almost unimaginable. A future without the proliferation of hate speech seems just as remote, but with meaningful action from all levels of influence in society, a change could come.