Instagram automatically made an ad that said "I will rape you"

Joanna Estrada
September 22, 2017

Solon originally posted the image to the Facebook-owned social photography platform in 2016 to highlight online hate speech directed towards women.

The inadvertent ad is the result of an algorithm used by Instagram that boosts posts that generate buzz. 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".

Facebook accidentally used a rape threat to advertise Instagram, just a week after it allowed advertisers to target topics such as "Jew haters" and other anti-Semitic categories. The Daily Beast, too, found that Twitter allowed targeted ads for users who responded to terms such as "Nazi" and "wetback".

The photo received three likes and more than a dozen sympathetic comments. Instagram too joined in saying they would be introducing enough changes to its algorithms to ensure such things don't recur again. However, what's more concerning is the fact that it is not clear if the Instagram app has any system in place to pick out violent and abusive text and report it as an inapt choice for an advertisement.

An Instagram spokesperson apologized and claimed that the image was not used in a "paid promotion".

The screenshot from the threat mail was taken by Instagram and posted on Facebook.

"We are sorry this happened - it's not the experience we want someone to have", Instagram said in a statement. "Posts are generally received by a small percentage of a person's Facebook friends".

An Instagram post of friends walking through the crystal-clear waves of Ibiza might get someone to check in with the photo-sharing app, but a screenshot of a rape threat? The company did not answer questions about how widely the post was shared, but said it would have surfaced to some of Solon's Facebook friends. The company's "On This Day" nostalgia feature, which resurfaces old posts, has faced similar criticisms. On Wednesday, 20 Democratic senators and representatives urged the Federal Election Commission to "develop new guidance for advertising platforms on how to prevent illicit foreign spending in United States elections".

According to the Guardian, Instagram did not reveal the parameters for why Solon's threatening post was chosen for sharing with her Facebook friends.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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