Facebook And Instagram Are Full Of Violent Erotica Ads From ByteDance- And Tencent-Backed Apps
Some ads feature descriptions of violence sexually, along with photos of women battered and images of male fitness influencers. These were not permission granted.
Tencent and ByteDance backed pps that have run hundreds of Instagram ads with explicit material, graphic violence descriptions and self-harming content on Facebook and Instagram.
The ads, which violate Meta’s policies, contain excerpts from erotic web novels featuring young adult fantasy themes like werewolves and vampires, often paired with short videos and images that appear to be taken from influencers, movies and TV shows. These ads encourage users to download apps that allow them to pay for chapters.
One ad, teasing a story about a “night of terror” where a teen girl will be “mated” to a “creature,” featured a shirtless photo of Brazilian football star Neymar mashed up with a stock image of a beaten woman. Neymar’s representative said SMEThis image was taken without permission.
It was an ad for iReader. In 2020, TikTok parent company ByteDance poured $170 million into the app. As of Saturday morning, 83 other live ads for iReader featured a story chapter titled “His Personal Cum Bucket” and a graphic description of sexual violence. Multiple inquiries to iReader representatives for comments went unanswered.
Similar content was found in ads for Mytopia, an app owned by ByteDance. A text description of a step-brother molesting a teenager girl was found in three of the ads. Another three ads depicted a romanticized story of a girl cutting her own throat. After being reached by SME, ByteDance paused Mytopia’s ad campaign, and ByteDance spokesperson Billy Kenny said that the ads “do not match our values.”
Ads featured excerpts from violent erotica paired with images featuring distressed women, girls, or muscular men. These images could sometimes be used without permission. Be aware that some images might be offensive.
Webnovel was launched Wednesday by Tencent’s subsidiary China Literature. It featured explicit sexually explicit images that suggested incest between mother and son. China Literature was unable to comment on the ads. SME. In a statement, spokesperson Maggie Zhou said: “We can confirm these ads were posted by third-party agencies without informing China Literature and in violation of our content policies.”
Tencent and ByteDance, who own TikTok, have been trying for years to demonstrate that their products are not exposing users to content encouraging sex, abuse or harm. The Chinese tech titans have spent a lot of money to get rid of this type content on WeChat. However, the company has also funded erotic internet novel companies to make it available to Meta users.
Tencent’s subsidiary China Literature owned Webnovel. It featured explicit sexually explicit ads that suggested incest between mother and son. They were removed.
Meta for its part has shown that it is largely incapable to stem the flow of fantasyland erotica advertisements which are in violation of its guidelines. The company’s Ad Library reveals that while Meta has detected and removed dozens of these ads, advertisers have just put more up. Moreover, Meta’s detection appears weak and haphazard, with weeks-old ads still live featuring text that obviously violates its rules. Prior SME contacted Meta about the ads, searches of the Ad Library for phrases like “his cock” and “rape me” returned hundreds of results, nearly all of them ads for web novel apps. (Disclosure: In a previous life I was in policy roles at Spotify and Facebook.
Andy Stone from Meta spoke out saying that Meta had already removed numerous ads from Web Novel companies prior to being approached. SMEIt has also removed almost 200 pages and ads since our presentation. Still, five new renditions of the “cum bucket” ad began running last night from a page that SMEHad been flagged to Meta and a quick search in the Ad Library yields hundreds of results similar.
During the pandemic Webnovel apps, Mytopia, and iReader were very popular. The apps first became popular in China, where ByteDance’s Tomato Novel app has been downloaded more than 60 million times. However, they are now popular in the U.S. Sensor Tower says that iReader and Webnovel were downloaded nearly 1.5 million times each in 2021. Although Chinese apps dominate the sector, domestic apps offer similar wares: Amazon’s Kindle Vella features identical themes and even some of the same stories featured on other apps. The app does not advertise on Facebook and Instagram.
Rest of World revealed earlier in the year that China-based web books often have a very large profit margin. They can earn as high as 10 times what they pay writers for each story. This profit margin might be dependent on advertising: Protocol in 2021 reported that 42.7% Chinese-based web novel were brought to readers overseas through advertisements.
The market is not limited to apps supported by Tencent or ByteDance. The last week was SMEMore than 1000 ads were found on more than 100 pages of Facebook that represent Chinese-based websites. Some of the ads stayed within bounds, offering largely standard romance novel fare, but others violated Meta’s policies barring explicit sexual content.
One ad running on Thursday morning promoted an app called MoboReader, and described a scene in which a woman’s husband tries to kill her by hitting her with a car, and then another man subsequently rapes her. Moboreader didn’t respond to our request for comment.
One text extract used in 32 ads Thursday featured a romanticized, graphic description of a teenage girl performing self-mutilation after she had been abused. These ads were for Supernovel. It is an app that Tencent claims it owns. Tencent and Cloudary declined to answer questions about the app.
Youn 2019, the China-based blog TechNode reported that a ByteDance web novel app popular with domestic Chinese audiences was shut down for three months by the Chinese government for distributing “lowbrow and sexually suggestive content.” But as the web novel industry has grown, ByteDance and Tencent have deepened their investments in it.
ByteDance purchased a majority share in MyMind Culture (parent company of several Chinese-language novel app apps) in December 2019. It also bought 10% of Beijing Dingtian Culture Entertainment in July 2020. This company runs several similar apps such as SweetRead and DmRead. ByteDance purchased 11% of Zhangyue (a China-based ebook company) for $170 million. This includes the iReader, Novelink and Favoread apps, along with Noveltells, Novelink, Favoread, Novelink, Novelink, Favoread, Noveltells, Novelink and Noveltells. It launched Mytopia in 2021. This app, just like iReader is aimed at foreign readers.
Billy Kenny, the ByteDance spokesperson, said that ByteDance (which invested in Zhangyue through its acquisition arm, Quantum Jump) “doesn’t have any involvement in the product and business strategy of Zhangyue’s global businesses.” Zhangyue, however, told shareholders in April: “Mr. Zhang Chao, head of ByteDance’s novel business department, is a director of the company. Byte has collaborated with the company in many areas, such as advertising and copyright. Kenny didn’t answer any follow-up questions regarding the nature of this collaboration.
Tencent is the owner of the Chinese conglomerate China Literature. This company also controls Cloudary Holdings, the English-language Webnovel App. Cloudary Holdings was listed in the Terms of Service for a number of other Facebook apps, such as iNovel and eReader. Maggie Zhou is a spokesperson for China Literature. SMEThe entities are not controlled or owned by China Literature, Cloudary.
Ads for several apps featured clips from some of the most popular movies like Star Wars, Marvel Comics and DC Comics.
Some of these ads appear to steal content from television and movie stars. Zhangyue featured photos of celebrities such as Kylie Jenner or Chadoy Leon. Leon told that Leon was the one whose photo was joined with photographs of scared women. SMEHe hadn’t heard of iReader. “Whoever is using my pictures are using them without my permission,” he said. Jenner’s rep declined to comment on the record.
Ads for Zhangyue apps as well as iNovel Supernovel and other services used content taken from some of the most popular movies. TwilightMovies, Star Wars and DC Comics, as well as Marvel Studios. Warner Brothers, which owns DC Comics, said that its content was used without permission. Disney (which also owns Marvel Comics and Star Wars) as well Summit Entertainment (which has a similar claim) denied the same. Twilight) did not respond to a request for comment.
These ads were also displayed signs of ban evasion on many Facebook pages, which suggests that companies deliberately avoid Meta takedowns. Some apps intentionally misspelled words that could lead to flags. One ad for iReader described a character by the “visible V running down to his gen.ita1s.” Other iReader-owned pages, including those promoting Noveltells and Novelink, added a letter to profane terms, including bitcch and whoree.
Novel apps have also spread their ads out across numerous pages — a tactic often used by networks trying to ensure that one or two takedowns will not cripple an entire campaign. Noveland app ads were placed on pages labeled Noveland1 to Noveland8. There are also pages that have title variations such as Noveland Romance Story and Noveland App. Noveland11, Noveland12 and Noveland13 pages were created this month but do not currently have ads. Noveland has not responded to comments or requests.
Another ad has been placed by pages with brighter names. There have been ads promoting iReader from werewolf-themed Pages with names such as Alpha King, Gamma Fire or Ugly Mate. A Philippines-based app called Pinky Novel has been running ads from a page called Kz Car Tint & Accesories [sic], and an app called AhaNovel, has been running ads from a page titled “Raped by Mr. CEO.” (Pinky Novel and Aha Novel did not respond to requests for comment.)
However SME reporting the page to Meta on Wednesday morning, at time of this writing, “Raped by Mr. CEO” is still live on the platform today.
No longer live, though, is a page Facebook published in 2021, highlighting Webnovel as “success story” in advertiser partnerships. Stone declined to answer a question regarding whether Meta views Webnovel as a good model for current advertisers.
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