- Exclusive: Instagram’s new TV service, IGTV, recommended videos of what appeared to be child exploitation and genital mutilation, a Business Insider investigation has found.
- BI monitored IGTV over a three-week period and found its algorithm recommended disturbing and potentially illegal videos.
- Two of the videos, featuring suggestive footage of young girls, were reported to the police by a leading children’s charity over concerns they broke the law.
- Instagram took five days to remove the videos, and apologised to users who saw them. The Facebook-owned app said it wants IGTV to be a “safe place for young people.”
- British lawmaker Damian Collins, who led the inquiry into Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data breach, described BI’s findings as “very disturbing.”
- Readers should be warned that some of the details in this report may be upsetting.
Instagram’s new TV service recommended a crop of graphic and disturbing videos, including what appeared to be child exploitation and genital mutilation.
That’s the finding of a Business Insider investigation into IGTV, which launched in June as Instagram attempts to muscle in on rivals like YouTube and Snapchat.
BI spent nearly three weeks monitoring the Facebook-owned video service, during which time IGTV’s algorithm recommended questionable content, including sexually suggestive footage of young girls and an explicit video of a mutilated penis.
Two of the videos discovered by BI were reported to the police by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), a British children’s charity, and were eventually removed by Instagram five days after BI reported them through the app’s official reporting channel.
Instagram apologised to users who saw the videos and said it wants to make IGTV a safe space for young people.
The findings come at a time when Facebook is under extraordinary scrutiny over inappropriate content on its platforms. Facebook and Instagram share a community operations team, and Mark Zuckerberg’s company has hired an army of 7,500 moderators and is using AI to snuff out posts that break its guidelines.
Earlier this year, former Facebook moderator Sarah Katz told Business Insider that she had to review 8,000 posts a day and it made her numb to child abuse. But despite the intense oversight, and resources Facebook is ploughing into policing its platforms, disturbing content appears to be slipping the net — and, as in the case of IGTV, even being suggested to users.
IGTV’s content recommendation machine
Instagram launched IGTV in June, and was viewed by many as Facebook moving in on YouTube’s territory. It allows users to set up their own channels and upload video of up to an hour in length. Anyone with an Instagram account can make a channel, and users swipe through them much like flicking through channels on a television.
IGTV recommends content in three ways: A “For You” tab, which plays videos as soon as you open IGTV; a “Popular” section; and a “Following” menu, which offers videos from people you follow.
Instagram did not answer Business Insider’s questions on how IGTV’s algorithm recommends certain videos and why videos were suggested that appeared to be child exploitation. But it appears that the For You section recommends things users will like, possibly based on past activity. The Popular tab seems to gather trending content from across IGTV.
Users can scroll through the recommended videos by swiping left, or IGTV will automatically play the next video. It is clearly designed to encourage scrolling and continued viewing, in much the same way that the YouTube algorithm recommends content through its Up Next bar.
Disturbing videos of young girls
Business Insider monitored the For You and Popular tabs for almost three weeks to establish what kinds of content IGTV’s algorithm was serving up for users.
We did so in two ways: Firstly through the account of this author and other BI journalists, and secondly an anonymous login set up as a child’s account. This second account had no activity history on Instagram and a user age set to 13, which is the earliest people can officially sign up on the app.
Within days of monitoring IGTV through Business Insider accounts, a video appeared in the For You section, titled “Hot Girl Follow Me.” It showed a young girl, we speculate to have been 11 or 12, in a bathroom. She glanced around her before going to take her top off. Just as she’s about to remove her clothing, the video ends.
The video, uploaded by a user Business Insider is not naming for legal reasons, also appeared under the Popular tab on IGTV. It was also one of the first videos recommended under the For You section to the child account set up by BI, which had no prior history of activity on Instagram.
The same user that uploaded the “Hot Girl Follow Me” video posted another video, titled “Patli Kamar follow me guys plzz,” which was also recommended to our child Instagram account under the For You section. It featured another clearly underage girl, exposing her belly and pouting for the camera.
The same two videos were separately uploaded by a different user, who again Business Insider has chosen not to identify. The video named “Hot Girl Follow Me” was called “Follow me guys” by this second user, and was also circulating on IGTV’s suggested posts.
Comments on the videos show they were being recommended to other IGTV users. They were also being interpreted by other users as sexually suggestive.
Some condemned the videos and questioned why they had been suggested. “BRO SHE’S LIKE FUCKING 10 WHY THE FUCK IS THIS IN MY INSTAGRAM RECOMMENDED,” said one user, commenting on the “Hot Girl Follow Me” video.
Others were more predatory in tone. “Superb,” one user commented on the “Patli Kamar follow me guys plzz” video. “Sexy grl,” another added.
The NSPCC, which is frequently involved in law enforcement activities around child abuse, reviewed the videos and reported them to the police. It was concerned that they could constitute illegal indecent images under UK law because they appeared to feature footage of erotic posing.
“This is yet another example of Instagram falling short by failing to remove content that breaches its own guidelines,” an NSPCC spokeswoman said.
Business Insider reported the videos through Instagram’s official reporting function. Because there was no obvious criteria for alerting the company to potential child exploitation, they were logged as “nudity or pornography.”
The videos remained online for five days. It was only after Business Insider contacted Instagram’s press office that the content was removed. By this time, the two videos — and other versions uploaded by the second user — had racked up more than 1 million views.
Instagram left the accounts that posted the videos active, however. Business Insider asked why the accounts were left up, as Instagram has a “zero tolerance policy” on child abuse. Instagram said the policy applies to the content itself and not to the account that uploads it.
“Instagram’s zero tolerance policy towards child abuse content is the right one, and it must make sure its policy is enforced in practice,” an NSPCC spokeswoman said. “Where Instagram has removed child abuse content from an account, we would expect that account to be reviewed by a moderator to establish whether the account should also be suspended.”
As of this week, the two accounts remain active. They continue to post sexually suggestive content, but not of the same nature as the “Hot Girl Follow Me” and “Patli Kamar follow me guys plzz” videos.
A graphic video of genital mutilation
Potential child exploitation is not the only questionable content being recommended by IGTV’s algorithm.
One of the first videos recommended to Business Insider’s anonymous account, registered to a user aged 13, was graphic footage of a penis undergoing an operation involving a motorized saw.
The penis appeared to have a metal lug nut affixed around its middle, above which it was extremely swollen and dark red in colour. The bolt was being removed with a round electric saw by what appeared to be a medic.
It was quickly wiped from IGTV after being reported by Business Insider as nudity, although the account that uploaded it remained live.
Another recommended video showed a baby lying on the floor, wailing inconsolably, with a monkey standing over and touching it. Adults were stood around in a circle, shouting and filming the scene on their phones while the monkey occasionally lashed out at them.
Instagram found that the video was not in breach of guidelines, but discovered the account that uploaded it was linked to a different account that had previously been taken down for breaching community guidelines. For this reason, Instagram took the account down.
There was a multitude of other questionable recommendations being pushed by IGTV’s algorithm. Examples included a video in which a group of men deceived a sex worker into thinking she was going to be arrested, a video of a woman pulling something long and bloody out of her nose, and various sexually suggestive scenes.
Business Insider presented its investigation to MP Damian Collins, the British lawmaker who is leading an inquiry into fake news and Facebook’s data breach involving Cambridge Analytica. He described the findings as “very disturbing,” and said big tech companies need to sink more investment into enforcing their own rules.
“It’s a question of the responsibility of the companies to monitor the content that’s on their platforms. A lot of the problematic content is already in breach of the community guidelines of these services, but what it shows is that there’s not effective enforcement,” he said.
An Instagram spokeswoman said: “We care deeply about keeping all of Instagram — including IGTV — a safe place for young people to get closer to the people and interests they care about.
“We have Community Guidelines in place to protect everyone using Instagram and have zero tolerance for anyone sharing explicit images or images of child abuse. We have removed the videos reported to us and apologise to anyone who may have seen them.
“We take measures to proactively monitor potential violations of our Community Guidelines and just like on the rest of Instagram, we encourage our community to report content that concerns them. We have a trained team of reviewers who work 24/7 to remove anything which violates our terms.”
“It’s not so different from where YouTube was 10 years ago”
It’s no secret that social media has a problem with disturbing and illegal material, and tech giants like Facebook have come under fire recently for failing to effectively moderate content at scale. For IGTV, however, the problem isn’t just that this material exists, but rather it’s being actively suggested by the algorithm.
Mike Henry, CEO of video analytics firm OpenSlate, which works with Facebook, said IGTV is still a young service. “While Instagram is relatively mature, IGTV is a brand new social video platform and will need time to develop its policies and technology. It’s not so different from where YouTube was 10 years ago,” he said.
YouTube’s child safety policy is broader than Instagram’s, for example. Instagram’s report function is limited to child nudity, while YouTube’s endangerment policy bans “sexualization of minors,” which allows scope for reporting images users suspect might be child exploitation.
Henry also said Instagram will have to figure out how to better filter its new platform if it hopes to monetize it, especially considering IGTV was touted as a space for influencers.
“Influencers make great video producers with compelling economics and, at scale, a viable canvas for video ad dollars. With the right policies and infrastructure, IGTV has the potential to become a major player,” he said.
For Collins, IGTV’s early missteps are evidence that governments need to do more to regulate tech firms.
“These companies are ad services, they make money out of understanding every single thing you could ever want to know about your users so you can target them with advertising. That same technology should surely very easily be able to root out harmful content as well,” he said.
“They don’t do it because there’s not been a commercial incentive for them to do it, so they’ve just not bothered. But what we have to do through regulation is create that incentive, to say ‘you’ve actually got an obligation to do it and if you don’t do it then there will be costs for you for not complying, so you need to invest in doing this now.'”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.