Searches for the word “dog” on Instagram’s stories feature shows an emoji for a take-out box associated with Chinese-American food, angering people who fear the app might boost racist stereotypes.
An Instagram employee noticed the problem over the weekend, according to a post on an internal Facebook bulletin board, while users of the popular photo-sharing app have been complaining about the problem since 2019. Instagram is owned and operated by Facebook.
“How are emojis recommended and can we remove them so that it doesn’t perpetuate Asian racial stereotypes?” wrote the employee, who works as an Instagram product integrity program manager. “I tested this with 3 members of my family and it shows for them.”
In testing on Apple devices, BuzzFeed News was shown the container of Sino-American food when searching for “dog” while trying to place an emoji or GIF over a story, a fleeting image or video attached to a profile for 24 hours. period. The take out box was one of seven possible emoji search results for the word, alongside real dog, paw print, and hot dog emojis.
The results could not be replicated on Android devices with Instagram. The story features on Twitter, Snapchat, and the Facebook app did not have searchable emojis or showed racist results.
A Facebook representative told BuzzFeed News the company is investigating the issue.
“We have removed emoji from appearing in this research and are investigating what led to it so that we can take action to prevent this from happening again,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
After the story was published, Instagram manager Adam Mosseri said on twitter that the take-out box emoji was associated with the term “doggy bag,” which made it appear when searching for “dog.”
“We have since removed this search term and we apologize for it being misinterpreted, and to anyone we have offended,” he said.
The problem had existed for at least 2019. In October of the same year, one person tweeted that they were looking for “gifs of cute little dogs on Instagram” but they came across the takeout box.
“Why did I search for a dog on @instagram and Chinese food is coming ???” another woman tweeted early 2020.
Jennifer 8 Lee, vice chair of the Unicode Emoji subcommittee, which helps new emojis gain approval, said the mistake was Instagram’s fault. Although emojis are linked to certain keywords, there is no basis in Unicode, the standard for consistent text handling across devices, for associating “dog” with emoji that people worry about.
“” Dog “is not a keyword for” take out box “in Unicode,” said Lee, who also wrote The chronicles of fortune cookies, a book on Americanized Chinese cuisine. “It’s got to be happening at this platform level and someone’s fucked up.”
Lee said the dog’s link to the emoji for the take-out container – which is actually an american invention – echoes the racist cartoons that took root when Chinese workers arrived in the United States in the 1800s. As immigrants came to build American railroads, food became a differentiator in “us” narratives. against them ”with Chinese workers portrayed as“ foreigners on our shores who eat dogs, cats and rats ”.
Lee added that while some Asian countries have places that serve dog meat, she noted that white Americans also sometimes eat atypical animals like alligators. “I would say the average Chinese person never eats a dog in their entire life, the same way the average American doesn’t eat an alligator in their life,” she says.
This is far from the first time that a Facebook product has been hit by claims of cultural insensitivity. In 2018, following a deadly earthquake in Indonesia, locals who tried to alert friends and family that they were safe or to offer condolences on the platform were shown party balloons after the platform did not understand that the Indonesian word for “survive” also means “to celebrate”.
This year, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Instagram wrongly put a disinformation tag on the coronavirus on stories that showed a screenshot of a memorial tweet from King’s daughter, Bernice King, which had nothing to do with the pandemic.
“Our systems mistakenly labeled the screenshots of this Tweet as vaccine misinformation,” an Instagram spokesperson said. said at the time. “We have now removed the incorrect label from these messages.”
08 Feb 2021, 09:49 PM
This story was updated with a comment from Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram.