Facebook Used A Rape Threat To Advertise Instagram: Here's How That Happened

Last week it was reported that it was possible to buy Facebook ads targeted to people who on their Facebook profiles had listed anti Semitic topics in their field of study or work

The caption of the photo read, "I Will Rape You", reported The Guardian.

Instagram promoted its service on Facebook by using a screenshot of a post that included an offensive message to a female user threatening her with rape and murder, it was learned on Thursday.

The Guardian reporter Olivia Solon stumbled upon a screenshot of a hateful email that she had received in the past.

This could be more big trouble for Instagram and Facebook, which just last week took flak for allowing advertisers to target users who describe themselves as "Jew haters" or interested in categories such as "how to burn Jews".

Instagram selected the screenshot, which she posted almost a year ago, to advertise the photo-sharing platform to Solon's sister this week, with the message, "See Olivia Solon's photo and posts from friends on Instagram". Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said such targeted ads in future would be allowed to go live only after they have been previewed by humans.

The company would create a program to encourage people on Facebook to report potential abuses of its ads system directly to the company, she said.


The Instagram app is the latest victim of faulty algorithms.

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

The accidental photo got three likes and over a dozen sympathetic comments, so Facebook found it "engaging". About a year later, Solon discovered that Facebook used the photo of the rape threat to advertise Instagram on the social network.

"We are sorry this happened - it's not the experience we want someone to have", Instagram said in a statement.

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. However, Instagram used the screenshot of that post as publicity material to highlight Instagram to Solon's own sister. "Posts are generally received by a small percentage of a person's Facebook friends". 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.

Facebook also admitted this month that an influence operation probably based in Russian Federation bought $100,000 worth of ads to promote divisive political messages.

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