Instagram's login screen for its phone app


Instagram thinks sharing your friend’s rape threat will get you back on the app

Hashtag no filter, indeed.


Samantha Grasso


Posted on Sep 22, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 4:37 pm CDT

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? Not so much.

On Thursday, Guardian reporter Olivia Solon shared on Twitter that Instagram had tried to do such a thing with one of her posts—it shared a rape and death threat that she’d received with an undisclosed number of her Facebook friends, including her sister.

“Olivia Solon and 155 other friends are using Instagram,” the Facebook post depicted in an ad to Solon’s sister. “See Olivia Solon’s photo and posts from friends on Instagram.”

The Instagram post used in the ad was from a year ago and included a screenshot of an email with the subject line, “Olivia, you fucking bitch!!!!!!!!” The email came from someone with the account name “I Will Rape You,” with a very direct threat: “I will rape you before I kill you, you filthy whore!”

According to the Guardian, Instagram did not reveal the parameters for why Solon’s threatening post was chosen for sharing with her Facebook friends. It only has five likes, two of which it received in recent history, but the 20 comments of sympathetic and consoling followers may have flagged the post for high engagement.

The ad, too, wasn’t part of a paid promotion but was instead used to “motivate” people who aren’t on the app or haven’t been in some time to look at content from their friends. Instagram didn’t reveal who the post was shared with but said it would have been “some” of Solon’s Facebook friends.

Instagram’s rape threat flub appears to be another instance of artificial intelligence or algorithms for advertising failing consumers. Last week, ProPublica revealed that Facebook allowed ad buyers to target consumers who were interested in topics such as “Jew hater,” “How to burn Jews,” and “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world.'”

A day later, BuzzFeed reported that Google allowed targeted ads for racist keywords such as “Jewish parasite,” and “Black people ruin everything.” The Daily Beast, too, found that Twitter allowed targeted ads for users who responded to terms such as “Nazi” and “wetback.”

“We are sorry this happened—it’s not the experience we want someone to have,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement regarding Solon’s post. “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.”

H/T The Guardian

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*First Published: Sep 22, 2017, 8:46 am CDT