Rihanna Protests Ad on Snapchat That Mocks Domestic Violence

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A report by Valeriya Safronova and Nellie Bowles for the New York Times.

Snapchat users noticed an ad that asked whether they would rather “slap Rihanna” or “punch Chris Brown.” On Thursday, the pop star took to Instagram, a direct competitor for Snapchat, to criticize the ad for making light of domestic violence. Stock prices for Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, sank by 4 percent.

“I’d love to call it ignorance but I know you ain’t that dumb!” Rihanna wrote in a statement, posted to her Instagram Stories. “You spent money to animate something that would intentionally bring shame to DV victims and made a joke of it!!! This isn’t about my personal feelings, cause I don’t have much of them…but all the women, children and men that have been victims of DV in the past and especially the ones who haven’t made it out yet ….you let us down! Shame on you.”

In 2009, Mr. Brown was charged in a brutal beating after he hit, choked and bit Rihanna, and tried to push her out of the car. He eventually pleaded guilty to felony assault and received five years of probation.

“This advertisement is disgusting and never should have appeared on our service,” a spokesperson for Snapchat said. “We are so sorry we made the terrible mistake of allowing it through our review process. We are investigating how that happened so that we can make sure it never happens again.”

The ad was for a game called “Would You Rather?!,” which was created last year by Daniel Lulic, a developer who previously designed two mobile “Truth or Dare” games. In Apple’s App Store, several reviewers criticized “Would You Rather?!” for posing questions about rape. “I am very disturbed with one of the would you rather questions,” wrote one user. “It’s under humor and it says Would you rather: Get raped by a llama or Rape a llama. No! Rape is NOT a joke!”

The advertiser has now been blocked from Snapchat, according to the company.

In February, Snapchat opened its advertising platform so third-parties can build software to buy ads, further automating the company’s advertising system. In its guidelines, Snapchat says that “all ads are subject to our review and approval.” The official policy prohibits an array of content including anything that is “shocking, sensational or disrespectful.”

This most recent debacle sent the stock price of Snap Inc., which owns Snapchat, down more than 4 percent. The price jumped last month after an earnings report that exceeded expectations for the fourth quarter of 2017. Snapchat has been struggling since it went public last March, reporting dismal financial results last year for three consecutive quarters. Last week, Snap Inc. announced that it will be cutting 120 engineers.

The company relies on a patina of cool to keep its young user base engaged, even as other mobile apps with similar or competing features have risen in popularity. Influencers play a large role in Snapchat’s branding, and the stock fluctuates based on their behavior. Last month, Kylie Jenner, who has marketed her cosmetics line on the platform and is one of its most popular users, tweeted, “does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me … ugh this is so sad.” Her comment has been liked more than 377,000 times. The day of her tweet, the company’s stock dropped 7 percent.

The problematic ad points to a larger issue for social media companies: advertising that receives little to no editorial oversight. This is a central challenge for social media companies, and the reason racist content can flourish on the platforms, and how Russian agents could buy advertising on Facebook and Twitter in attempts to sway the 2016 election. Last September, ProPublica found that advertisers on Facebook could directly target content at users who were interested in topics like “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” and “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’”

Third-party content caused a problem for Snapchat last week as well. Snapchat — and Instagram — had to halt its Giphy integration after a racist image showed up for its users. Giphy indexes most-popular GIFs and has used automated filters to screen for disturbing content. Now, the company has announced it will have human moderators screen every GIF.

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