“Instagram could become a new platform for the sharing of disinformation around the 2020 election because of the way propagandists are relying on images and proxy accounts to create and circulate fake content, leading social intelligence experts tell Axios.”
“It takes pictures, Pa,” Axios didn’t say.
“The big picture: “Disinformation is increasingly based on images as opposed to text,” said Paul Barrett, the author of an NYU report that’s prompted a renewed look at the problem. “Instagram is obviously well-suited for that kind of meme-based activity.”
You don’t say?
In the 2016 Goat Rodeo, Instagram was already being used, cheaply and effectively, for disseminating propaganda:
Why Instagram matters: It’s an engagement powerhouse that attracts far younger users than its parent company, Facebook.
- And it drove more engagement with Russian disinformation in 2016 than Facebook, according to the NYU report.
- In a statement, Instagram said: “We know that our adversaries are always changing their techniques so we are constantly working to stay ahead.”
And Axios is only just now realizing it?
I seem to recall those thousands of Russian ads were mostly images and even when the ads were finally taken down, the screenshots of them went as viral as an image can, from bot to bot to a gullible person on Facebook, who then spread it to their friends. Remember, the algorithm bubbled-up items that got a lot of attention, and whether anyone on Facebook wanted to see it or not, it was thrust on them. “Everyone likes it, you will too!”
But the larger issue here is the amorality of plutocrats like Faceberg. If your check doesn’t bounce, he’ll take your ad, and then all hell breaks loose.
But it isn’t just ads:
How it works: A false claim about the Odessa shooter in Texas being a Beto O’Rourke supporter appeared as a tweet from a far-right account called @UncleSamsChild, which has nearly 30k followers.
- This tweet quickly turned into screenshot images shared on Instagram from proxy accounts for @UncleSamsChild, whose accompanying Instagram account has zero posts, presumably because it was taken down for violating Instagram’s rules.
- The group’s hashtag #UncleSamsMisguidedChildren appears on over 31,000 posts, meaning they have a healthy following on Instagram despite not having any actual posts on their own account.
- So it was a tweet made to look like an Instagram post that was also shared by various people on Facebook — all as images and by accounts other than the main disinformation culprit, @UncleSamsChild.
So what’s Instagram to do? Faceberg shrugs says it’s impossible. Meanwhile, another image-heavy social media platform already solved it: Pinterest!
Pinterest, the visual social network, faced scrutiny in 2016 after a scientific study found that 75% of posts related to vaccines were negative. The next year, Pinterest updated its “community guidelines” to explicitly ban “promotion of false cures for terminal or chronic illnesses and anti-vaccination advice” under a broader policy against misinformation that “has immediate and detrimental effects on a pinner’s health or on public safety”.
The policy change cleared the way for Pinterest to deploy a number of technological approaches to combating anti-vaxx propaganda. The company has banned boards by a number of prominent anti-vaccine propagandists, including the National Vaccine Information Center and Larry Cook, who runs the website and Facebook group “Stop Mandatory Vaccination”.
Pinterest has responded by building a “blacklist” of “polluted” search terms.
“We are doing our best to remove bad content, but we know that there is bad content that we haven’t gotten to yet,” explained Ifeoma Ozoma, a public policy and social impact manager at Pinterest. “We don’t want to surface that with search terms like ‘cancer cure’ or ‘suicide’. We’re hoping that we can move from breaking the site to surfacing only good content. Until then, this is preferable.”
Pinterest also includes health misinformation images in its “hash bank”, preventing users from re-pinning anti-vaxx memes that have already been reported and taken down. (Hashing is a technology that applies a unique digital identifier to images and videos; it has been more widely used to prevent the spread of child abuse images and terrorist content.)
And the company has banned all pins from certain websites.
“If there’s a website that is dedicated in whole to spreading health misinformation, we don’t want that on our platform, so we can block on the URL level,” Ozoma said.
Users simply cannot “pin” a link to StopMandatoryVaccinations.com or the “alternative health” sites Mercola.com, HealthNutNews.com or GreedMedInfo.com; if they try, they receive an error message stating: “Invalid parameters.”
So it can be done (you cannot search for propaganda and you cannot link to it), it’s just Faceberg doesn’t want to do it.