Instagram apologizes after a rape threat is reposted as an ad

How many times can it blame algorithms for errors?

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Richard Lawler
September 22nd, 2017
In this article: facebook, gear, services
Antonio Bronic / Reuters
Antonio Bronic / Reuters

Facebook's algorithms have embarrassed the social network once again, this time by highlighting an example of harassment as an advertisement. The Guardian reporter Olivia Solon posted an offensive and threatening message she received to Instagram. On the Facebook side, some system decided it showed engagement and used a screenshot of the message reading ""Olivia, you fucking bitch!!!!!!!" and "I Will Rape You" as an advertisement in an attempt to lure more of her friends to Instagram.

Recently, its algorithms have allowed advertisers to target users based on their anti-Semitism, it's blacklisted posts attempting to expose ongoing ethnic cleansing and moderators reported they were not prepared to screen for Russian propaganda during the election. In this case, Solon apparently posted the screenshot last year, and it's unclear why it popped up now. A spokesperson for Instagram apologized, saying "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."

Repeatedly, the company seems to implement systems without considering or accounting for negative implications. Blaming automated systems for an occasional issue is one thing, but we haven't seen the evidence that the people managing those systems understand their users or the world they operate in.

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