Searches for the word “dog” on Instagram’s story features show an emoji for a takeaway box paired with American Chinese food, infuriating concerned people that the app reinforces racist stereotypes.
An Instagram employee noticed the problem over the weekend, according to a post on an internal Facebook message board, while users of the popular photo-sharing app have been complaining about the issue since 2019. Instagram is owned and operated by Facebook.
“How are emojis recommended in this and can we eliminate them so that this does not perpetuate Asian racial stereotypes?” wrote the employee, who works as a manager of Instagram’s product integrity program. “I’ve tried it with 3 members of my family and it appears to them.”
In tests on Apple devices, BuzzFeed News showed the American Chinese food container in search of “dog” while trying to place an emoji or GIF on top of a story, image, or video. ephemeral that is attached to a profile for 24 hours. point. The takeaway box was one of seven possible word emoji search results, alongside real dog emojis, paw prints, and a hot dog.
The results could not be replicated on Android devices with Instagram. The story features on Twitter, Snapchat, and the Facebook app had no emojis to search for or showed no racist results.
A Facebook representative told BuzzFeed News that the company is investigating the problem.
“We have removed emojis that did not appear in this search and we are investigating what led to this so that we can take steps to prevent it from happening again,” a Facebook spokesman said.
After posting the story, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, he said on Twitter that the food box emoji was associated with the term “puppy bag,” which made it appear when searching for “dog.”
“We have since removed that search term and apologize for misinterpretation and to anyone who has offended,” he said.
The number has existed since at least 2019. In October of that year, one person tweeted they were looking for “cute puppy gifs on Instagram,” but they found the takeaway box.
“Why did I look for dog on @instagram and Chinese food appears ???” another woman tweeted in 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 for Unicode, the standard for constant text handling between devices, to associate “dog” with emojis that concern people.
“‘Dog’ is not a keyword for ‘takeaway’ in Unicode,” said Lee, who also wrote The Chronicles of Fortune Cookies, a book on Americanized Chinese food. “It must be happening on that platform level and someone fucked up.”
Lee said the connection between the dog and the emoji in the takeaway, which it actually is an American invention – echoes the racist caricatures that became effective when Chinese workers arrived in the United States in the 19th century. As immigrants came to build American railroads, food became a differentiator in the narratives of “us against them,” where Chinese workers were portrayed as “strangers on our shores eating dogs, cats.” and rats “.
Lee added that while some Asian countries have places that serve dog meat, he noted that white Americans also eat atypical animals like alligators. “I would say the average Chinese never eats dogs all their life, just like the average American doesn’t eat gator in their lifetime,” he said.
This is far from the first time a Facebook product has been hit by accusations of cultural insensitivity. In 2018, after a deadly earthquake in Indonesia, people in the country tried to alert friends and family who were safe or condoling on the platform festive balloons are displayed after the platform did not understand that the Indonesian word for “survive” also means “celebrate”.
This year, the day of Martin Luther King Jr., Instagram mistakenly put a coronavirus misinformation tag about stories showing a screenshot of a commemorative tweet from King’s daughter Bernice King that had nothing to do with the pandemic.
“Our systems mislabeled the screenshots of this Tweet as vaccine misinformation,” an Instagram spokesman said he said then. “We have now removed the incorrect tag from these posts.”
February 8, 2021 at 9:49 p.m.
This story has been updated with a comment from Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram.