Facebook Announces Further Changes to Ad Targeting Options (Sep 20, 2017)
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg posted to the site today to address the issue of offensive terms appearing in the targeting options for would-be advertisers, a problem that emerged last week and which Facebook issued a temporary fix for later in the week. As I said in commenting on Facebook’s initial tweaks, those didn’t feel like a permanent solution and I predicted that it would slowly dial the temporary limits back as it found more long-term answers. Sandberg’s post today both serves as a mea culpa for not detecting and fixing the issues more proactively, and as a confirmation of my prediction: Facebook has begun allowing some of the most common user-specified interests back into its ad targeting tool and will continue broadening those that can be used over time with more human curation. It will also be clamping down more (though in unspecified ways) on ensuring the actual content served up through ads is appropriate. I’ve felt since this all first came to light that the response to it was overblown, and that the criticism Facebook has faced over it was far too harsh, and we discussed this in some depth on the Beyond Devices Podcast last week, in which my co-host Aaron Miller took the opposite view. A piece in Slate today is particularly hard on the company on this front, arguing that the company’s pursuit of profits has somehow blinded it to these issues. The reality here is that at Facebook’s scale almost any potential misuse of its platform will squeeze through somehow simply because Facebook can’t possibly police it thoroughly enough to eliminate it entirely without also generating lots of false positives. The scale of the problem identified last week and its likely impact were so minimal as to be almost insignificant, and in general Facebook is making good progress on this front and on others in taking more responsibility for policing its platform and minimizing its potential for harm. I’m therefore more inclined than others to cut it a break.