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Why is Facebook suggesting I look at photos of my female friends in bikinis?

Why is Facebook suggesting I look at photos of my female friends in bikinis?
[Photo: Thom Holmes/Unsplash]

Facebook seems to want me to creep on my female friends.

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TheNextWeb reported that Facebook lets you search for photos of your female friends, but not your male ones, which is creepy enough. However, when we went to verify that, we found something even creepier–Facebook autosuggested that we look at photos of female friends in bikinis. Um, that would be a big no thank you, Facebook.

[Screenshot: Facebook]
When you type “photos of my female friends” into the search bar, you don’t even need to finish typing the phrase, before Facebook serves up a selection of photos from your female friends–selfies, wedding pictures, profile pics. Searching for male friends, though, requires typing in the entire phrase “photos of my male friends” and then hitting return before serving up a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of weird photos. I got what are presumably male dogs and two male-themed cartoons, including one cautioning men against peeing outdoors in the polar vortex–none of which were posted by friends or pages I follow. (Sorry, “Good Morning Images,” but I’m not ready to commit.)

Even more alarming, though, is that when you type in “photos of my female friends,” Facebook helpfully suggests that you finish the phrase with “in bikinis” or “at the beach” where they are presumably wearing bikinis. When I (bravely) clicked on the search to see photos of my female friends in bikinis, I was pleased to see that none of my relatives or work acquaintances had posted photos of themselves in bikinis. Instead, Facebook offered up photos of other people’s friends and relatives in bikinis.

Naturally, it doesn’t serve up that option for male photos. In fact, it serves up no options for male photos. The question now is: Is this a glitch in the search graf or by design?

Update: Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson said that this is indeed a glitch:

“This is a bug we’re working on fixing. We’re always working to show people the search results and predictions most relevant to them.”

And another update! After sending its first statement, Facebook reached out again to clarify it, realizing that what it had called a “bug” was not actually a bug at all. Rather, it was a function of how its search feature works, autosuggesting results for popular and recent searches across the social media site. So while you may not have asked to see photos of your female friends in bikinis, enough people on the site are dying for that hot content (perhaps blame Tumblr’s porn ban?) that the search graf now suggests it. Since the phrases “female friends in bikinis” or “photos of female friends” don’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards, Facebook doesn’t necessarily feel an urgency to block them.

That said, Facebook is aware that while the phrases don’t violate its community standards, they are creepy, potentially offensive, and don’t make Facebook a kind and cuddly or friendly space, which is something it hopes to work on. Here’s the new comment:

“Facebook Search predictions represent what people may be searching for on Facebook, but are not necessarily reflective of actual content on Facebook. We know that just because something doesn’t violate our Community Standards doesn’t necessarily mean people want to see it, so we’re constantly working to improve search to make sure predictions are relevant to people.”

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