Twitter has issued an apology after a BBC News report revealed that it permits ad targeting using audience keywords like “neo-Nazi” and “islamophobes.” The broadcaster bought ads from Twitter using offensive targeted audience keywords, and Twitter's algorithm reportedly suggested that those keywords would draw in tens of thousands of views to the advertisement. Twitter evaluated that an ad using the “neo-Nazi” target term would reach 67,000 to 81,000 people, while terms like “islamophobes,” “islamaphobia,” “islamophobic” and “#islamophobic” could have a reach of 92,900 to 114,000 people, according to the report. Ads aimed at 13 to 24-year-olds using the keywords “anorexic,” “bulimic,” “anorexia” and “bulimia” could potentially draw an audience of up to 20,000 people. The ads the BBC bought were all accepted by Twitter, and were only taken down when the broadcaster stopped the ad campaign.
Twitter said it had policies in place to avoid abusing the keyword targeting tool, but said it was not applied correctly. “[Our] preventative measures include banning certain sensitive or discriminatory terms, which we update on a continuous basis,” the company 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.”