Technical errors in social platforms: Increased use of the #blacklivesmatter shows weaknesses

Users wondered at the weekend: Did TikTok and Instagram limit the reach of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter? The social platforms apologized for the technical errors that fueled the racism debate.

Both Instagram and TikTok reported difficulties on their platform over the past weekend. The increased use of the hashtags #blacklivesmatter and #georgefloyd posed a particular challenge for Instagram’s anti-spam system. After the death of African-American George Floyd last Monday, many users shared their thoughts online using the hashtags mentioned. On Instagram, posts were blocked with the hashtags. TikTok, on the other hand, incorrectly indicated that the videos had no views and no engagement.

Instagram blocks the action: #blacklivesmatter could no longer be posted

Some users who wanted to post under the hashtag received a message from Instagram, which is otherwise reserved for spammy behavior. For many, this raised the question of whether or why Instagram wants to restrict the use of the hashtag.

The Instagram PR team responded in a tweet and explained the reason for the report. Accordingly, the range of the hashtag should never be limited, but the increased use led to the spam prevention tool of the platform intervening and blocking the actions of some users.

We have technology that detects rapidly increasing activity on Instagram to help combat spam. Given the increase in content shared to #blacklivesmatter, this technology is incorrectly coming into effect,

it says in Statement on Twitter. The whole team is currently working on ensuring that users’ actions are no longer blocked due to the hashtag.

TikTok displayed incorrect numbers of hits

TikTok also reported some problems. No content was blocked here, but the app indicated that content that had the hashtags #blacklivesmatter or #georgefloyd had no views. The reason for this was a technical error for which Vanessa Pappas, TikTok US General Manager, and Kudzi Chikumbu, Director of the Creator Community, apologized in a blog post:

[I] n fact, videos with these hashtags have currently generated well over 2 billion views, which is a testament to their importance to and resonance among our community. Nevertheless, we understand that many assumed this bug to be an intentional act to suppress the experiences and invalidate the emotions felt by the Black community. And we know we have work to do to regain and repair that trust.

To restore the trust of their community, TikTok would like to donate several million US dollars to some nonprofit organizations that fight racism. In addition, a specially created Creator Diversity Council should ensure that creators who stimulate conversations on important topics are heard more.

Technologies still fail on sensitive issues

Events like this show the political responsibility that social networks now have. After all, they offer space for an exchange. As soon as this is disrupted, be it by restrictions or technical errors, you have to react extremely quickly in order not to fall out of favor with users. The error on Instagram shows how little mature tools like spam prevention are. While it would be clear to a human moderator that the increased occurrence of the hashtag is related to the current protests, the tool sees a behavior that equates it with spam and prevents it. Especially with such sensitive topics, the social networks have to prepare better so as not to be suspected of deliberately restricting some content.

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