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Uproar over racist GIF

In race to add new features, social media platforms may be exposing their users to undesirable content

The GIF, an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, showed a chimpanzee cranking up a ticking number counter under the header: "N***ER CRIME DEATH COUNTER".

"The numbers just keep on climbing!" says a smiling blond presenter in a spiffy red suit.

Up till about a week ago, the offensive animation was available to Instagram and Snapchat users if they searched for the word "crime".

The uproar over the distasteful GIF led to both social media platforms promptly disabling the feature. The underlying issue was Giphy, an online GIF database that was integrated into Instagram in January, and into Snapchat last month.

Giphy allows users to post content on its site, although its terms of service state that GIFs should not be abusive, obscene or vulgar. A Giphy spokesman said the racist GIF was accidentally let through due to a bug on its moderation filter, and that the GIF was removed immediately.

All the GIFs have been rechecked to ensure they passed the guidelines, the spokesman added. But many remain unconvinced about re-enabling the feature.

In an intensifying race of adding fresh features to attract new users and keep existing ones happy, social media platforms might be exposing their users to undesirable content.

Instagram's parent company Facebook, for instance, also uses Giphy for its Messenger Kids app.

This case showed the dangers of relying on a third-party site that might not have the same stringent checks the bigger players have.

Perhaps it would have been better if the tech giants relied on their own expertise.


Up till about a week ago, the offensive GIF was available to Instagram and Snapchat users if they searched for the word "crime". The underlying issue was Giphy, an online GIF database that was integrated into Instagram and Snapchat, and allows users to post content on its site. PHOTO: SNAPCHAT

WHY MAKE LIGHT OF DOMESTIC ABUSE?

In 2009, rapper Chris Brown made news after he assaulted his then girlfriend, singer Rihanna.

Viral images of her showed visible facial injuries. She required hospitalisation.

Fast forward nine years later and Snapchat is in trouble for an ad it ran for mobile video game Would You Rather. Users are asked if they would rather "slap Rihanna" or "punch Chris Brown".

The ad was pulled last Monday.

A Snapchat spokesman apologised and said it was "approved in error, as it violated advertising guidelines". It also blocked the game developer as an advertiser, and reiterated that the game was unaffiliated to Snapchat.

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Rihanna, however, did not accept the apology. "Now SNAPCHAT I know you already know you ain't my fav app out there! But I'm just trying to figure out what the point was with this mess!" the singer wrote on Instagram.

"I'd love to call it ignorance but I know you ain't that dumb. You spent money to animate something that would intentionally bring shame to DV (domestic violence) victims and made a joke of it."

She added: "Shame on you."

Snapchat's lax advertising approval process might have cost it almost US$800 million (S$1 billion), as the company's stock dipped nearly 4 per cent after Rihanna's remark.

Last month, social influencer Kylie Jenner tweeted to complain about Snapchat's new design, saying: "Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me... Ugh this is so sad."

That saw Snapchat shares sink 6.1 per cent.

EATING ICE A HOT TREND

Chinese netizens are taking to social media to eat ice. Yes, thousands are posting videos of themselves eating coloured ice in interesting shapes like flowers, doughnuts and spoons.

Aside from using run-of-the-mill frozen water, they are also freezing milk and chocolate treats.

The posts are accompanied by hashtags like #eatingice, #iceeater and #chewingice.

The trend first appeared on video-sharing app Kwai, but has since spread to Instagram and other platforms. These videos have garnered millions of views and are encouraging more users to jump onto the bandwagon.

Such clips are part of the ASMR - or autonomous sensory meridian response - trend where soothing sounds create a pleasurable tingling that begins from the scalp and moves downwards.

Recent ASMR-related videos include the cutting of soap, which many find soothing.

While odd at first, this is certainly better, and safer, than the craze for eating detergent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 18, 2018, with the headline 'Uproar over racist GIF'. Print Edition | Subscribe