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Facebook removes racist Spongebob Trayvon Martin GIF

Picture of Travyon Martin with halo and words: *coughing..snorting* *niggering* Image copyright unknown
Image caption The picture also included a racist term

Facebook has removed a racist GIF after a search for the term Spongebob Squarepants revealed an image of the cartoon character preparing to shoot Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who was killed in 2012.

The animation shows the character picking up sweet wrappers before becoming irate at the level of littering, taking out a gun and shouting 'not on my watch'. However the cartoon has been distorted to show a racist word along with an image of the 17-year-old killed by neighbourhood patrol volunteer George Zimmerman.

Its presence on Facebook was flagged to the BBC by a concerned user who was "disturbed" to find it while searching for SpongeBob SquarePants GIFS to send to a friend on the social network's Messenger app.

Facebook declined to give an official response but told the BBC that it had been removed as the GIF went against its content policy.

Giphy, a third party website who provide GIFs to Facebook also removed it.

"At GIPHY, we do not tolerate any kind of content that promotes racism, sexism, inequality, or hate of any kind. And are looking onto it further.

"As one of very few providers that power Facebook Messenger's GIF, we take great lengths to ensure that any content found through our platform or technology is appropriate and safe for consumption."

Broadcasters Nickelodeon who own the copyright to Spongebob declined to comment on the character being used in this way.

The GIF shows the cartoon character picking up litter to his increasing frustration. The GIF then shows an image of Travyon Martin the US teenager shot dead by George Zimmerman in 2012.

In the image Travyon has a halo round his head and is surrounded by the words "coughing...snorting" and then a racist term. The final picture shows SpongeBob holding up a gun again as if preparing to shoot Travyon Martin.

Extremely racist

A Facebook user who wishes to remain anonymous sent the GIF to the BBC. They wrote:

"As as a user of Facebook Messenger everyday I never saw any problems with their GIFS, but I was disturbed by an extremely racist one, I have no idea how it would have been permitted or managed to get through."

Facebook did explain that the GIF search function in Facebook messenger takes GIFs from third parties. In this case the offending GIF came from the website GIPHY.

Facebook policy is to remove content which goes against their terms that state, "You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence."

GIPHY says that it also tries to stop offensive material circulating but sometimes things slip through. Spokesman for the company, Simon Gibson, says:

"GIPHY goes a long way and pours tons of resources into vetting content and ensuring stuff like this doesn't surface, however, every now and then, something does slip through the cracks.

"We do pride ourselves on being nimble enough to address these things immediately (which is a big reason why Facebook trusts us powering their products) and are working towards ensuring instances like this are as close to zero as possible."

By Patrick Evans, BBC Social News and UGC team

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