Twitter may have allowed radical words to bypass its filters without knowing. According to an experiment conducted by BBC, the British media company was able to run ad campaigns on Twitter that included the words “neo-nazi” and “white-supremacist”.
The policy notes that these sensitive categories may include things like crime, sex life, religious affiliation, health, racial and ethnic origins among a host of other issues.
The BBC says that it easily ran a few ads on the social media platform that were able to target users interested in the words white supremacist, anti-gay, transphobic, and other sensitive keywords that should have been flagged by Twitter.
In general, Twitter will allow ads to be directed to users based on their search or posting history. For example, people who post stuff about neo-nazi are more likely to see ads related to that subject. It’s not clear if the BBC ads were able to reach these people but the fact that they went through without getting flagged is a huge concern.
The ads, according to the news organization, were live for a number of hours. BBC also noted that about 37 people saw them and two clicked. Twitter ads usually cost around $5 to run.
BBC also noted that it put up another ad that targeted users between the ages of 13 and 24. According to the news organization, the ads had some sensitive keywords too such as the words bulimia, anorexic, and bulimic.
The media company noted that it was able to get 255 views and 14 clicks before the organization decided to take them down. However, if the ads weren’t taken down, they could have easily reached up to 20,000 users.
Despite this, Twitter maintains that the words used by the BBC are actually not in its list of sensitive words. However, in an email sent to The Verge, the social media company appeared to admit that the fact that these ads were able to bypass its filter system was, in fact, an error. The company also apologized that this happened, adding that it will be working to rectify the issue moving forward.
Twitter also noted that it will continue to constantly improve its ad policies through a wide range of interventions including restricting ads deemed sensitive or those that inappropriately target minors. Ad targeting on social media is a very hot topic at the moment.
In recent years, how social media companies target users with these ads and their appropriateness has come under scrutiny but even then, nothing has really changed.
The BBC experiment also throws into doubt the effectiveness of the filters put in place by these social media companies. It’s not just Twitter either. Even Facebook has had many issues with ad targeting in recent years.