Instagram has come under fire for using a post featuring the words “I will rape you before I kill you, you filthy whore” in an advert on Facebook.
The advertisement was created automatically using an algorithm that lifts imagery from popular Instagram posts and turns them into targeted Facebook ads, without first being vetted for appropriateness or consulting the Instagram account holder.
The Instagram post used in this instance was a screenshot of an abusive email sent to Olivia Solon, a technology reporter for The Guardian. Solon originally shared the email on Instagram in September 2016, along with the caption: “Sadly this is all too common for women on the Internet. I am sure this is just an idiot rather than any kind of credible threat but it’s still pretty vile.”
The post received 20 sympathetic comments and a handful of likes from Solon’s friends, family and acquaintances. However, a little under a year later, Solon’s sister saw the post appear in her Facebook newsfeed as an advertisement for Instagram, with the message: “See Olivia Solon’s photo and posts from friends on Instagram”.
Writing on Twitter, Solon said: “Thanks Facebook for reminding me and my friends/family of that rape threat but I’ll go back to enjoying my honeymoon now”.
A spokesperson for Instagram apologised, and said that the image was not used in a “paid promotion”.
“We are sorry this happened – it’s not the experience we want someone to have,” said the statement. “This notification post was surfaced as part of an effort to encourage engagement on Instagram. Posts are generally received by a small percentage of a person’s Facebook friends.”
Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, allowing the two services to be advertised on both platforms. The Guardian reports that Facebook is currently facing fierce criticism for how it uses algorithms to automatically create targeted advertising, a strategy that can have offensive or upsetting results.
A shocking investigation by independent US news site ProRepublica found that the world’s largest social network was allowing advertisers to direct their “promoted posts” to people who had expressed interest in the topics “Jew hater”, “How to burn Jews” or “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world’”.
When contacted, Facebook apologised and said that the anti-Semitic categories had been created by an algorithm rather than people. Ad categories on the site are automatically generated based on what people list as their interests, employer or ‘field of study’.
In early September, meanwhile, the social network admitted that fake accounts and pages associated with Russia had been allowed to spend around £74,000 ($100,000) on ads with “divisive messages” during the 2016 US presidential election season.
Mark Zuckerberg has since said that the 3,000 “inauthentic” advertisements will be turned over to Congress in the US for investigation. There have long been concerns about the political ramifications of “fake news” and ads being promoted and disseminated on Facebook, with many commentators arguing that these strategies helped secure the victory of President Donald Trump.
Images: Pexels / Rex Features