Sexually explicit AI chatbot ads have started to appear on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook promising uncensored chats and “NSFW [not safe for work] pics,” some even using popular children’s TV characters to promote apps that create such pictures. According to NBC News, there are 35 app developers running these explicit ads on Meta-owned apps, and 14 running similar ads on TikTok.
This surge in AI chatbot marketing is part of an AI gold rush, as these companies aim to capitalize on the popularity of AI chatbot products like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Despite having advertising standards that prohibit adult content, Meta and TikTok are not consistently applying these policies to AI chatbots. It remains unclear why these AI startups were allowed to advertise while platforms like Meta and TikTok have strict rules against real humans in similar content.
Meta and TikTok have since increased their efforts to remove these explicit AI ads after being contacted by NBC News. The extent of similar advertising on Apple and Google app stores is unknown.
Interestingly, Instagram and Facebook, both owned by Meta, have previously removed sex workers and sex educators from their platforms. Instagram has made exceptions to its nudity rules for photos depicting breastfeeding, birth giving, after-birth moments, health-related situations, and acts of protest. Despite this, sex workers claim that they still face punishment on the platform even when they comply with Meta’s rules about nudity, while celebrities can post sexualized content without consequences.
Meta’s oversight committee has advised the company to revise its confusing rules about nudity, but no changes have been announced so far. Meta has applied its strict rules to advertising, including banning ads for adult toys, pornography websites, and the Ashley Madison website.
The 35 chatbot companies advertising on Instagram and Facebook are often based abroad and not well-known tech companies, with little information available about them. These chatbot apps are generally free to download with in-app purchases and subscriptions available, and some are marked as age-restricted or suitable for teenagers. The apps combine computer chatbots with romance or sex appeal, but it’s unclear how much AI technology they actually use.
One of these chatbot apps, Replika, gained attention when its bots stopped engaging in erotic role-play, disappointing customers. Many of the Instagram and Facebook ads for these AI chatbots use sexual imagery, some of which is not subtle, and have received negative reactions from users.
Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound, faced obstacles advertising with Meta due to its policies and sees the presence of AI chatbot ads as evidence of inconsistent enforcement and a double standard. The Center for Intimacy Justice has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Meta’s handling of adult ads.
It’s unclear when sexually explicit ads for AI chatbots started appearing on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, but they appear to be a recent phenomenon. Many of the Facebook pages used to purchase the ads for AI chatbots were created within the past 12 months.