The issue of micro-targetting of adverts to certain sections of people by social media firms is once again the headlines.
An investigation by the BBC discovered that Twitter’s ad tool allowed for the use of discriminatory terms for targeted adverts.
Its investigation found that it was possible to target those Twitter users who had shown an interest in keywords including “transphobic”, “white supremacists” and “anti-gay”.
To be clear, the BBC probe found that Twitter allowed adverts to be directed at users who have posted about, or searched for, specific topics.
But Twitter has now apologised for failing to exclude discriminatory keyword terms, amid concern that certain type of adverts could be targetted at selected audiences, in order to spread intolerance.
Twitter like other social media firms creates profiles of users based on the data it collects, about the the things they post, like, watch, or share.
Concern about micro-targetting of adverts is growing.
Late last year former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates when asked about about his stance on political adverts, said he was more concerned by the targeting of these ads at various sections of the global community.
And last November an international “grand committee” of lawmakers urged there be a pause on online targeted political ads, that contain false or misleading information.
The BBC investigation however found that Twitter’s ad tool made it possible to advertise to people using the term “neo-Nazi”. Those adverts would reach a potential audience of 67,000 to 81,000 people in the United Kingdom.
The BBC paid £3.84 to run a generic advert from an anonymous Twitter account, saying “Happy New Year” to three different audiences. It said that 37 users saw the post and two of them clicked on a link attached, which directed them to a news article about memes.
Other terms the BBC used were the keywords “islamophobes”, “islamaphobia”, “islamophobic” and “#islamophobic”, which had a potential to reach 92,900 to 114,000 Twitter users in the UK.
It also found advertising to vulnerable groups was also possible, when it ran the same advert.
For example the BBC ran the same advert to an audience of 13 to 24-year-olds using the keywords “anorexic”, “bulimic”, “anorexia” and “bulimia”.
Twitter estimated the target audience amounted to 20,000 people. The post was seen by 255 users, and 14 people clicked on the link before the BBC stopped it.
The social network told the BBC it had policies in place to avoid the abuse of keyword targeting, but acknowledged they had not been applied correctly.
“[Our] preventative measures include banning certain sensitive or discriminatory terms, which we update on a continuous basis,” Twitter reportedly 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,” the micro-blogging platform said. “We continue to enforce our ads policies, including restricting the promotion of content in a wide range of areas, including inappropriate content targeting minors.”
In an effort to ensure that its platform is not used to distort the policital landscape, Twitter in November 2019 announced that it was banning all political advertising worldwide.
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