Instagram is apologizing after its algorithm incorrectly flagged posts in support of #EndSARS, Nigeria’s anti-police brutality movement, as false information. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, a special police force, has been accused of corruption and brutality against protesters in the country.
“Yesterday our systems were incorrectly flagging content in support of #EndSARS, and marking posts as false. We are deeply sorry for this. The issue has now been resolved, and we apologize for letting our community down in such a time of need,” the company said in a statement Thursday.
The movement and its accompanying protests made headlines this week after Amnesty International said Nigeria’s security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters, killing 12. SARS was formed by the Nigerian government in 1992 to act as a deterrent to the country’s high crime rate. The squad operated in an anonymous manner in an attempt to protect its officers and conduct their investigations without interference.
However, in the subsequent years, the youth of Nigeria have accused the squad of corruption and brutality, claiming they have harassed and tortured citizens who resist. Amnesty International reported at least 82 cases of abuse and killings by SARS officials in the past three years.
On social media, in both Nigeria and across the world, supporters of the protesters used #EndSARS to express support for the movement. However, some noticed their Instagram and Facebook posts were flagged by the company’s fact-checking banners.
According to one user, they received a message that read: “False: The same false information was reviewed in another post by fact-checkers. There may be small differences. Independent fact-checkers say this information has no basis in fact.”
In recent weeks, Facebook has pledged to crackdown misinformation ahead of the 2020 U.S. election, banning anti-vaccination ads, content that denies the holocaust, and other conspiracy theory content. Facebook, however, has not commented on what caused the mistake of mislabeling the activist content, or whether any changes will be implemented to prevent it in the future.
In response, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced the disbanding of SARS earlier this week. However, protestors asserted that while the official SARS was no more, anonymous police forces still existed.
“The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms,” Buhari said in a televised statement. “We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct are brought to justice.”
In the past 48 hours, American celebrities like Demi Lovato, Yara Shahidi and Rihanna, have also supported the #EndSARS movement, using social media to highlight the plight of the protestors. In Nigeria, the protests continue.