Southeast Asia technology group Sea’s shopping arm Shopee has apologised over an online advertisement in Indonesia that ignited uproar on social media for mocking victims of sexual harassment and abuse.
On a popular Indonesian gossip account on Instagram, the paid post appeared to imitate women warning about the dangers of dating apps, using screenshots to make it appear to be a real discussion.
Using the format and portraying predatory male behaviour, one slide featured a man sending a woman a message, that turned out to be a Shopee advertisement.
Shopee Indonesia director Handhika Jahja said the advertisement has since been removed and the mistake would not be repeated.
“Sexual harassment is a topic that needs to be handled with great care and seriousness, not as a joke or a promotion,” he said in a statement.
“We sincerely apologise for the use of materials that are not appropriate for marketing materials.”
The commercial was slammed online, with social media users saying it belittled and undermined victims of sexual abuse and harassment, many of whom are afraid to speak out.
On Twitter, users called for a boycott of Shopee, posting their shock and disgust alongside the hashtag #UninstallShopee.
Using the guise of a sexual abuse report for an advertisement was heartbreaking, said one user, @HwhippedHyunji: “I’m out of words, this is utterly unacceptable.”
Nenden Sekar Arum of Safenet, which monitors online behaviour, including threats, violence and disinformation, said it made light of a serious issue.
“The content was insensitive, as though it denied the experience of gender based online violence, which is currently increasing,” she said.
“It could even stir up trauma for survivors.”
Reports of gender-based violence have more than doubled during the pandemic, according to Komnas Perempuan, Indonesia’s commission on violence against women.
“We appreciate Shopee’s quick response,” said the commission’s head, Andy Yentriyani, adding that Shopee and other firms needed to set policies that would prevent and properly address sexual violence.
- Additional writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Martin Petty, of Reuters.