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Beef Of The Week #396: Rihanna v Snapchat

By | Published on Friday 16 March 2018


It’s not uncommon for a misjudged advert to result in a flurry of angry tweets, followed by another flurry of retractions and apologies. Though usually it’s the advertiser doing the apologising. This time it was the platform that carried the ad. Because in ‘what the hell were they thinking?’ news this week we have Snapchat carrying an advert for an app that asked users if they’d like to slap Rihanna. Needless to say, Rihanna herself was not impressed.

The advert in question was for one of those ‘would you rather?’ apps. You know that game, right? You’re presented with two equally unpalatable choices and have to weigh up which you would ultimately chose should you have to. No, you have to. No, you can’t say neither, you have to choose one. No, your family’s going to be killed if you don’t choose one. It doesn’t matter why. Look, it’s just a game. God, you’re no fun.

In my day we pulled questions out of our heads, like ‘would you rather hold hands with Michael all day or put your hand in Mr Jones’ bum crack for two minutes?’ Maybe you didn’t go to my specific school, so can’t gauge exactly how bad either of those things would be. Let’s try another. Would you rather eat raw sewage or go through with Brexit?

There are loads of apps that throw up these kinds of questions for you now, because apparently no one values the creativity of thinking up awful things in your own head anymore. Also, they’re pretty cheap and easy to make and are popular with young people, like those who populate Snapchat.

The advert on Snapchat that caused the controversy this week was for one of those apps, which promoted a game offering players “impossible choices”. The example it then gave was “slap Rihanna” or “punch Chris Brown”?

Brown and Rihanna were once, of course, one of pop’s big couples. It all ended rather abruptly in 2009 though, when – travelling home from a pre-Grammys party – Brown held Rihanna’s head against the window of his car and then punched, choked and bit her until she fell unconscious. He then pushed her lifeless body out of the car onto the pavement and drove off.

Although he initially pleaded not guilty to charges of assault, he eventually changed his plea and was sentenced to counselling and community service. Since then, the music industry has continued to punish Brown for his crimes by welcoming him back with open arms and never really mentioning what happened ever again.

So, yeah, you can see why presenting the “impossible choice” of whether to slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown might raise some eyebrows. I mean, you could argue that the choice is impossible anyway, because there’s no way you’d want to slap Rihanna, but punching Chris Brown would just bring you down to his level and solve nothing.

Though I think that might be a little too much nuance for an app just trying to make a fast buck. Also, as the New York Times notes, one review of the app on Apple’s App Store reads: “I am very disturbed with one of the ‘would you rather’ questions. It’s under humour and it says, ‘Would you rather: get raped by a llama or rape a llama?’ No! Rape is NOT a joke!”

When attention was first drawn to the offending advert earlier this week, Snapchat told BBC Newsbeat: “The advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines. We immediately removed the ad last weekend, once we became aware. We are sorry that this happened”.

Rihanna did not accept this explanation though, subsequently responding – via Instagram – and accusing Snapchat of more complicity than it was owning up to. “Now Snapchat”, she wrote. “I know you already know you ain’t my fav app out there! But I’m just trying to figure out what the point was with this mess!”

She continued: “I’d love to call it ignorance but I know you ain’t that dumb. You spent money to animate something that would intentionally bring shame to [domestic violence] 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. Throw the whole app-oligy away”.

The company yesterday issued a further statement, saying: “This advertisement is disgusting and never should have appeared on our service. 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”.

This slip up comes just a month after Snapchat opened up its advertising platform more widely. Although it says that all advertisements will be reviewed by a human before going live, this suggests it hasn’t put the proper infrastructure in place. Or its policies simply prioritise revenue over taste, despite claims in its published policy that it bans “shocking, sensational or disrespectful content”.

Whether it was Rihanna’s response that did it, or Snapchat’s apparent lack of content moderation, the company’s share price dropped sharply yesterday. Around 5% was wiped off said share price, taking about $600 million off the company’s valuation.

The current price isn’t the lowest ever seen for the company’s shares, but it’s still nearly $10 under the price Snap Inc opened at when it floated on the stock market last year. And it’s also the latest incident showing up the volatility of the company’s stock. Last month, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t like the app’s new design, causing 7% to fall off the share price.

That also suggests that investors are more concerned that users will be confused and turned off by a redesign of the app than they are that users might delete Snapchat en masse after it tacitly endorsed domestic violence. Although it may be that the Snap Inc share price would have fallen even further this week had it fully recovered from the dip after Jenner’s tweet.

Either way, right now, Snapchat isn’t looking like a great investment either morally or financially. Place you bets, what will be the next great social media post – on a rival platform, presumably – to send Snapchat’s stock plummeting? Making that bet might be more profitable than buying Snap shares. Which would you rather?