Instagram's TV service recommended disturbing content

Tim Maytom

An investigation into IGTV, Instagram's recently-launched streaming video service, has found graphic and disturbing videdos appearing to show child exploitation and abuse amogn those recommended to users.

According to Business Insider, a three-week investigation found that videos whose content appeared to include genital mutilation and suggestive footage of young girls was included in recommendations. Two of the videos were reported to the police by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, as well as being flagged through Instagram's own official reporting channel. Instagram took five days to remove the videos.

IGTV was launched in late June as a direct rival to YouTube and other streaming video platforms, offering users the ability to stream videos up to 1 hour in length via a standalone app, or through Instagram's main app. The revelation of the disturbing content found on the service comes as Instagram's owner Facebook faces growing scrutiny over the content hosted on its various platforms.

IGTV recommends content through three different avenues: a For You tab, which plays videos as soon as you open IGTV; a Following menu, which displays videos from other users you follow; and a Popular section, which displays trending content from across IGTV. The investigation came across disturbing content in the For You and Popular sections, even when using a child account set up with no prior history of activity on Instagram.

"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," said a spokesperson for Instagram. "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."

Upon being presented with the results of the investigation, MP Damian Collins, who is leading an inquiry into deceptive digital information and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, called the content "very disturbing.

"It's a question of responsibility of the companies to monitor the content that's on their platforms," said Collins. "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."

"With IGTV still in its infancy, there are bound to be teething problems," said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of Socialbakers. "Having strict guidelines for users and brands on the type of content they can share is key to Instagram's future. It's encouraging to see the platform taking urgent action on inappropriate content that breaks these rules.

"Recommendation algorithms are powerful tools for social media platforms. The aim is to keep you engaged for as long as possible. Instagram uses these algorithms to suggest contnet you will like, therefore keeping you on the app for longer. Despite this, they have obvious weaknesses in identifying the type of content that may be inappropriate for users. This is where humans are crucial."