Facebook has been blamed for an error that saw a picture of a Sikh parade wrongly published alongside a news story about Britain’s most wanted sex offenders on a regional title’s social media feed.
The Morley Observer & Advertiser has apologised for the error, which appeared on its Facebook page, but is pointing the finger squarely at the social media giant.
The title which is owned by Johnston Press, published a story headlined “Britain’s Most Wanted list: sexual crimes” after receiving photos of 13 suspects from the Crimestoppers charity.
The article was scheduled through social media optimisation platform Social Flow to be published on the newspaper’s Facebook page at 9.07pm on 23 April, 2018.
But, the wrong image was posted when the story went live. Rather than a photo of a suspect, an image from a story about the Vaisakhi Parade in Leeds featuring members of the Sikh community appeared.
The image remained on the title’s Facebook page, which has more than 3,800 likes, for 12 hours and was only taken down the following morning when staff became aware of the error.
Johnston Press is now investigating the incident. It sent an email to all of its staff across the country on Thursday last week instructing them to stop using Social Flow to schedule posts.
It is now believed the mistake was a result of Facebook algorithms rejecting the initial photo for being too low resolution, with the web giant automatically swapping it out for a hi-res image that had been used before.
A Johnston Press spokesperson said: “Due to what appears to be a technical issue with the systems we use to manage our social media posts, an image appeared on the Morley Observer Facebook page accompanying an article about sexual assaults which was not related to the story.
“Our digital team removed the image as soon as it was spotted. We deeply regret this unrelated image was used and have offered our sincere apologies to the Sikh community.
“We are undertaking a full investigation to understand exactly how this occurred and will take all steps necessary to ensure that this is not repeated. In the interim, we have immediately suspended use of the social media software across all our platforms.”
Community group Sikhs in Leeds shared the apology they received from Johnston Press Yorkshire group weeklies editor Jean MacQuarrie on their Facebook page.
MacQuarrie wrote: “May I begin by offering my apologies. We absolutely did not intend and greatly regret any disrespect to the Sikh Community and the Panj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones).
“Obviously, the members of the community who appeared in the photograph are not suspected of having committed crimes of a sexual nature.
“I was very concerned to learn of this incident, and I immediately began making enquiries. What I have learned is that the Morley Observer was not at fault, and the error was caused by Facebook.”
She said Facebook had used the image of the Sikhs to accompany the article “without our knowledge or permission”.
“I have the greatest of sympathy with the gentlemen in the photo, and I am very sorry that this has happened. However, they deserve to receive apologies from Facebook which is, of course, responsible for the mistake,” she said.
“For that reason, I am doing everything within my power to ensure that Facebook takes responsibility for making such a serious error, and to persuade them to apologise to the gentlemen concerned.”
A spokesperson for Facebook told Press Gazette they had nothing to add on this story.
Social Flow chief executive Jim Anderson said the post was scheduled through his platform with the correct picture but was too small to meet Facebook’s requirements, meaning it chose the next available option.
“In general terms it makes sense Facebook would do that – it wants to have high quality pictures and its algorithm’s set up to not allow low quality,” he said.
“But obviously newspapers publish a lot of content about lots of different topics so it can be completely inappropriate to publish a different photo.”
He added: “We take this kind of stuff very seriously.
“We feel terrible that something like this could happen, whether it’s our fault or not. We want to make sure accurate stories and quality journalism can get out in its intended form.”
Anderson said he was aware of a fix involving domain verification, a tool designed by Facebook to tackle fake news by ensuring only verified owners can edit the way their content appears on the platform.
He added that Social Flow is in discussions with Johnston Press and its other clients to explain how to avoid a similar issue happening again.
A spokesperson for the Sikhs in Leeds group said they were unable to comment at this time.