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3 Nov 2023

Johana Bhuiyan, The Guardian

Meta faces allegations of racism against Palestinians over WhatsApp's AI sticker generator

"WhatsApp’s AI shows gun-wielding children when prompted with ‘Palestine’", 3 November 2023

A WhatsApp feature that generates images in response to users’ searches returns a picture of a gun or a boy with a gun when prompted with the terms “Palestinian”, “Palestine” or “Muslim boy Palestinian”, the Guardian has learned.

The search results varied when tested by different users, but the Guardian verified through screenshots and its own tests that various stickers portraying guns surfaced for these three search results. Prompts for “Israeli boy” generated cartoons of children playing soccer and reading. In response to a prompt for “Israel army” the AI created drawings of soldiers smiling and praying, no guns involved.

Meta’s own employees have reported and escalated the issue internally, a person with knowledge of the discussions said.

...But Guardian searches for “Muslim boy Palestinian”... generated four images of children: one boy is holding an AK-47-like firearm and wearing a hat commonly worn by Muslim men and boys called a kufi or taqiyah.

Even explicitly militarized prompts such as “Israel army” or “Israeli defense forces” did not result in images with guns. The cartoon illustrations portrayed people wearing uniforms in various poses, mostly smiling. One illustration showed a man in uniform holding his hands forward in prayer.

The discovery comes as Meta has come under fire from many Instagram and Facebook users who are posting content supportive of Palestinians. As the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues, users say Meta is enforcing its moderation policies in a biased way, a practice they say amounts to censorship.

Kevin McAlister, a Meta spokesperson, said the company was aware of the issue and addressing it...

Users also documented several instances of Instagram translating “Palestinian” followed by the phrase “Praise be to Allah” in Arabic text to “Palestinian terrorist”. The company apologized for what it described as a “glitch”.

In response to the Guardian’s reporting on the AI-generated stickers, the Australian senator Mehreen Faruqi, deputy leader of the Greens party, called on the country’s e-safety commissioner to investigate “the racist and Islamophobic imagery being produced by Meta”.