Some crisis situations are caused by what people say or do. On occasion, a crisis—or an embarrassing incident—is caused by technology.
The New York Times reported yesterday that, “Facebook users who recently watched a video from a British tabloid featuring Black men saw an automated prompt from the social network that asked if they would like to ‘keep seeing videos about Primates’, causing the company to investigate and disable the artificial intelligence-powered feature that pushed the message.
“This was clearly an unacceptable error and we disabled the entire topic recommendation feature as soon as we realized this was happening so we could investigate the cause and prevent this from happening again,” Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said in a statement to USA Today.
“As we have said, while we have made improvements to our AI, we know it’s not perfect and we have more progress to make,” she said. “We apologize to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations.”
Not The First Time
This is not the first time that advanced technology has created an embarrassing situation for an organization.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that “a judge ruled that Apple will have to continue fighting a lawsuit brought by users in federal court in California, alleging that the company’s voice assistant Siri has improperly recorded private conversations.”
Last week at the Paralympics in Tokyo, Toyota self-driving pods injured a pedestrian. Reuters reported that, “In a YouTube video, Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda apologized for the incident and said he offered to meet the person but was unable to do so. “A vehicle is stronger than a person, so I was obviously worried about how they were,” he said, answering questions about the incident.
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Toyoda said the accident showed the difficulty for the self-driving vehicle to operate in the special circumstances of the village during the Paralympics with people there who are visually impaired or have other disabilities.
“It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” he said.
When Notre Dame Cathedral burned in 2019, YouTube had to apologize for mistakenly linking the historic fire in Paris to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
According to ABC News, “The video giant said a new tool for battling misinformation made ‘the wrong call’” when it displayed text from Encyclopedia Britannica about 9/11 in several videos of the iconic cathedral burning on Monday.”
“We are deeply saddened by the ongoing fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “These panels are triggered algorithmically, and our systems sometimes make the wrong call. We are disabling these panels for livestreams related to the fire.”
Advice For Business Leaders
- Ensure your crisis management and communication plans include provisions for responding to a crisis that is abused by technology.
- When holding practice sessions to make sure your plans will work when needed, include worst-case scenarios similar to what happened to Facebook, Apple, Toyota and YouTube.