Facebook Removes ‘Treason’ Category For Advertisers After Concerns Of Authoritarian Regime Targeting

Eric Lieberman | Tech and Law Reporter

Facebook reportedly removed the identifying characteristic “treason” for its advertising services, after receiving some backlash that it could have serious consequences beyond marketing.

Criticism of the tag came from an article published Wednesday by a Danish state broadcaster, which also discovered and publicized the option, according to Reuters.

Citing certain experts, the piece detailed how such an “interest category” on Facebook’s advertising platform could be used by authoritarian regimes just as much as more innocuous marketers, allowing oppressive state officials to weed out those deemed menacing or disobedient.

“‘Treason’ was included as a category given its historical significance,” a Facebook spokesman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Given it’s an illegal activity, we’ve removed it as an interest category.”

Facebook’s afforded advertising capabilities have been a point of contention multiple times before. The company helped advertisers with targeting during the 2016 election season, according to BuzzFeed News, by offering an in-depth template of how it perceives the U.S. electorate is ideologically split. It created the manual by using its own demographic data, and broke up the American populace into 14 segments based on race and religion, including “Youthful Urbanites” “Politically Engaged City Dwellers,” “Politically Engaged Adults,” “Mainstream Millennials,” “Multicultural Millennials,” “Transitionals,” “Small Town America,” and “The Great Outdoors.”

It has also been accused of violating U.S. civil rights law by offering an option to target based on race and ethnicity, even leading to a legal complaint before it ended the practice. (RELATED: Facebook’s Path To Ad Dominance Comes With a Litany Of Allegations)

And due to pushback from lawmakers and portions of the public, Facebook has been trying to police promoted political posts on the platform, but with dubious success.

For instance, the social media company recently blocked a music video for a gospel song called “What Would Heaven Look Like,” because it originally considered — whether through human content moderators or algorithms — it to be “political content.”

The Danish Broadcasting Corporation has raised a number of important questions about the way Facebook’s advertising systems work,” the Facebook representative said. “Our goal is to ensure people see ads that are relevant and useful. We create targeting categories based on people’s interests in different topics. For example, if you like a sports team’s Page, you may be included in a sports interest category. Businesses do not get any personally identifying information about you. And you’re only ever included because of the actions you take online, not your personal characteristics.”

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