That disconnect was on display on Wednesday night, as Facebook advertising executives mingled with reporters at the upscale 1 Hotel Central Park over cocktails and passed snacks that included duck confit taquitos and salmon caviar pancakes. Just before the event started, Mr. Zuckerberg responded to a claim from President Trump that Facebook was “anti-Trump.” The event, which Facebook told reporters in late August would be on the record — meaning discussions there could be reported on — was made off the record last week, a few hours after Ms. Sandberg posted her response to the issue of racist ads.
As Facebook sought to polish its reputation, industry leaders were wrestling with the misuse of marketing tools that had been developed for their benefit. Facebook is seen as an unavoidable force, not only because it’s the second-biggest seller of online advertising after Google, but also because it provides companies with unprecedented methods for targeting ads to people based on their tastes and habits.
“Sometimes our industry gets so enamored with new things that we lose sight of unintended consequences,” said Sarah Hofstetter, chief executive of the ad agency 360i. “Data and personalization is one of those things. It can be used for phenomenal targeting of potential consumers to buy cookies, toys and book hotel rooms, but it also can be used to target hate groups and inspire nefarious outcomes.”
She added, “Whether they like it or not, media companies have a tremendous responsibility to protect the public from itself.”
But while the social concerns over such misuse are clear, brands are not responding by changing the way they spend their advertising budgets, as they did earlier this year when ads for brands like AT&T were discovered on YouTube videos promoting terrorism and hate speech.
“We haven’t seen any clients question their investments in Facebook in response to the news, and I think the main reason for that is that no brands were directly or indirectly harmed by this activity,” said Aaron Shapiro, chief executive of the digital ad agency Huge. “It’s definitely something the marketing community is monitoring very carefully, because certainly, if it becomes a big enough issue where public association with Facebook starts to become negative, that’s a totally different story where advertisers would have to pay attention.”
Raja Rajamannar, the chief marketing officer of Mastercard, said that although he was…