Netflix has denied changing the artwork for their films and programmes based on a viewers’ race after some claimed they were deceiving black users with the use of ‘intrusive’ and ‘manipulative’ advertising.
The streaming platform generates suggestions of TV shows and movies for individual users based on personal viewing habits. Netflix began offering the personalised artwork to users in December last year after research indicated that this was the biggest influence on users deciding what to stream.
However, some subscribers found that the promo images used for certain content have been manipulated to reflect their ethnicity.
Netflix’s promo shots for 2004’s Love Actually and the Kelsey Grammer-starring Like Father have been shared as examples of the alleged advertising tactic.
Some viewers are finding that the poster for the Richard Curtis rom-com features Chiwetel Ejiofor alongside Keira Knightly – even though the former only appears as a minor character.
One Twitter user posted a screenshot from her Netflix account, which showed two black actors on the poster for Like Father – despite them having around “10 cumulative minutes of screen time [and] 20 lines between them, tops.”
Just did another cursory scroll of suggested watches and the posters they gave me. pic.twitter.com/VoCFJQfWaK
— stacia l. brown (@slb79) October 18, 2018
“Other Black Netflix users: does your queue do this?” Stacia L Brown asked her Twitter followers. “Generate posters with the black cast members on them to try to compel you to watch?”
Brown then posted another shot showing a number of similar promos, although she added: “None of those are quite as weird as the Like Father one, btw.”
The algorithms were described as “beyond deceptive” by the editor of editor of MelanMag.com – a lifestyle magazine for women of colour.
“In their keenness to cater to black audiences, Netflix has overstepped the mark with this issue,” Joy Joses told Sky News.
“It’s beyond deceptive to think that I am being manipulated based on my so-called algorithm choices,” she said. “It really is an own goal though, as audiences have caught on.”
She added: “Why don’t they give us more of what we want instead – black leads in big budget productions? In every other sphere, clear signage is the rule. Why should it be different with film and TV promotions?”
Speaking to The Guardian, The Receipts Podcast‘s Tolani Shoneye described the apparent move as “intrusive” and “the dark side of marketing”.
“I noticed it a while ago with a Zac Efron film that I’d already seen, but Netflix kept showing me it as a Michael B Jordan movie,” she added.
Netflix have now denied the claims. “We don’t ask members for race, gender or ethnicity so cannot use this information to personalise their individual experience,” a spokesperson for the company told Newsbeat.
“The only information we use is a member’s viewing history. Reports that we look at demographics when personalising artwork are untrue”
“In terms of thumbnails, these do differ and regularly change. This is to ensure the images we show people are useful in deciding which shows to watch,” they added. “We are always trying to learn from our members and looking for ways to improve how we personalise the service over time.”