Instagram admits moderation mistake over racist comments

By Cristina Criddle
Technology reporter

England v Germany - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - June 29, 2021 England"s Bukayo SakaImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Several users reporting racist abuse on Bukayo Saka's Instagram were told the comments were "probably" within guidelines

Instagram has admitted a mistake in its technology meant racist comments and emojis were not removed.

It comes after a flood of racist abuse was directed at England footballers Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho following the men's Euro 2020 final.

Instagram boss Adam Mosseri said content had "mistakenly" been identified as within guidelines instead of referred to human moderators.

The issue had now been fixed, he said.

“We have technology to try and prioritise reports and we were mistakenly marking some of these as benign comments, which they are absolutely not,” he told BBC News.

“The issue has since been addressed.

"Reports on these types of comments should [now] be reviewed properly.”

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

On Monday, BBC News reported a comment containing several orangutan emojis on Saka’s Instagram.

Within minutes, a notification was received saying the platform’s technology “found that this comment probably doesn’t go against our guidelines”.

BBC News requested a further review but received no response.

On Thursday, Saka himself responded to the abuse.

"To the social media platforms... I don't want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that me, Marcus and Jadon have received this week," he wrote.

"I knew instantly the kind of hate that I was about to receive and that is a sad reality that your powerful platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Following Mr Mosseri’s comments, on Wednesday night, several more racist comments and emojis were reported - but no notification of the results of any review was received.

A quick scroll on Saka's account reveals plenty more racist comments yet to be reported and removed.

“It is absolutely not OK to send racist emojis, or any kind of hate speech, on Instagram,” Mr Mosseri added in a series of tweets.

"To imply otherwise is to be deliberately misleading and sensational.

“Emojis are difficult, as are words whose meaning changes based on context.

"Slurs evolve as well, so the work is never done.”

Monkey emojis

Racism on Instagram has been a long-standing issue, with a vast amount of content to moderate.

In April, Liverpool Football Club criticised the platform after some of its players were sent racist monkey emojis.

Instagram has previously consulted with anti-discrimination and anti-bullying groups to curate a list of offensive terms, phrases and emojis.

Media caption,
Racist abuse of England players is "unforgivable", England manager Gareth Southgate says

Users can also filter out specific words or emojis on their accounts, by changing the Hidden Words tool in settings.

But Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Hate (CCDH) said it was "beyond belief" that racist abuse continued to bypass Instagram's filters.

"Of the 105 accounts we identified as having racially abused England footballers, 88 are still up," he said, adding it was "a far cry" from the social network's promised solution.

"From its failure to identify monkey emojis as racist, to its flat-out refusal to issue lifetime bans to racists, Instagram - and its parent company Facebook - have failed to act," he said.

"We have heard enough talk. It's time for the UK Government to follow Germany's lead in passing laws and impose serious financial penalties on firms that give a megaphone to racism and extremism."