Congressmen ask Facebook: Who's buying your hate speech ads?

Facebook is facing scrutiny from U.S. Congressmen Keith Ellison and John Conyers. 

The Democratic representatives from Minnesota and Michigan, respectively, wrote a letter to the social media company Wednesday asking that it update its policies regarding hate speech. They also asked Facebook to clarify who buys ads on its site and to make all Facebook ads publicly available.

"I am concerned that Facebook allowed advertisers to target people who expressed interest in the topics of 'Jew-hater' and 'How to burn jews,'" Ellison and Conyers wrote. "Allowing for the spread of violent and hateful ideologies on Facebook, a network with nearly 2 billion unique users, poses a grave threat to not only our most marginalized and threatened communities, but to our entire civil society."

Facebook defines hate speech as attacks on people based on their race, sexual orientation and other "protected characteristics."

The company has said it grapples with tens of thousands of hateful posts per week and it depends on its billions of users to report any posts that may violate its rules.

Ellison and Conyers said Facebook's current policies regarding hate speech are "troubling."

"While it earned revenue by letting advertisers target individuals who shared vile anti-Semitic statements, it was also banning black women who spoke out against racism," they wrote.

The Congressmen were referring to an incident when activist and writer Ijeoma Oluo's Facebook account was suspended after she posted a series of screenshots of threatening and racist messages she'd received. Facebook later reinstated her account. It appears that wasn't an isolated incident, according to TechCrunch. Several other black activists have reported similar occurrences.

In their letter, Ellison and Conyers sent Facebook a number of questions inquiring how it identifies hate speech and what it does to prevent its spread on its advertising platform.

They also asked that Facebook detail any changes it recently made to its policies.

Facebook didn't immediately return CNET's request for comment.

This article originally appeared on CNET.

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    Dara Kerr, a freelance journalist based in the Bay Area, is fascinated by robots, supercomputers and Internet memes. When not writing about technology and modernity, she likes to travel to far-off countries.