- Social platforms Snapchat and Instagram temporarily suspended access to Giphy, the app and website that let people create and share animated photos, after users discovered a racially charged GIF, according to Engadget.
- Giphy removed the offensive post and published an apology: "We take full responsibility for these recent events and sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended." The company said it would manually search its database of looped images to find and remove similar offensive content.
- The racist GIF was displayed on social media platforms because of a bug in Giphy's content moderation filter, the company told Engadget. Giphy's community guidelines say the company doesn't allow anything that contains hate speech.
The racist GIF discovered in the image database highlights the difficulty that social media platforms face in policing the activity of millions of users — especially those that depend on user-generated content — even as tech companies develop increasingly advanced software to detect objectionable imagery. But social media companies also somewhat rely on crowd-sourced policing of content, which means that offensive posts can get a lot of attention as users share them in expressing their outrage before they can be removed from the platform. For many mobile users, social media platforms are a major access point to viral user-generated internet content, making these platforms' role in distributing hate speech, child pornography and terrorist propaganda more profound and difficult to manage.
There have been countless news reports about hate speech appearing on social media, which has worried brands whose ads appear alongside viral content online, elevating the issue of brand safety. Mondelez, Lidl and Mars were among the companies that last year pulled advertising from YouTube after reports that the video-sharing site showed inappropriate clips alongside the ads of major brands. In November, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the Google-owned company had taken down more than 150,000 videos depicting violent extremism in an effort to lure back advertisers and restore revenue on the site. YouTube also planned to build up its content review team to 10,000 people to detect and stop these cases before they occur.
YouTube wasn't the only platform confronting this issue. Snapchat and Facebook also have faced controversies over racist content. Facebook was criticized because its self-service ad-buying platform let advertisers direct ads to the news feeds of about 2,300 people who said they were interested in anti-Semitic content, per reporting by ProPublica. These social platforms are among the companies that risk damage to their reputations and future advertising revenue if they can't screen out objectionable content, especially as they target teens and children. Facebook last year released the Messenger Kids app that includes a Giphy integration for kid-friendly imagery. As the recent racist GIF incident shows, social platforms must be cautious about allowing a new avenue for objectionable content that reaches vulnerable audiences.