Facebook is increasing its efforts to thwart misinformation on Instagram, which it owns.
The company has announced that Instagram’s fact-checking program is going global, allowing 45 third-party organisations to review and label false information on the platform. Instagram began fact-checking in the US earlier this year, after a pair of 2018 reports commissioned by the US senate highlighted Russian actors’ efforts to target voters on the photo-sharing service.
Facebook will also be further integrating its fact-checking efforts across its flagship product and Instagram, which it acquired in 2012. If something is labelled false by fact-checkers on Facebook, it will now also be labelled as false on Instagram.
“We want you to trust what you see on Instagram,” the company said in a blog post announcing the changes.
Instagram has been playing catch up to Facebook in the fight against misinformation. But Facebook’s approach has been far from perfect, and it’s likely that Instagram could face many of the same pitfalls as it borrows heavily from its parent network.
“This is a promising step, but it will take some time to tell how effective it will be,” said Paul Barrett, a New York University professor who authored a report on the ways disinformation could alter the 2020 US elections. His report called on Instagram to develop a clearer strategy to address falsehoods ahead of the election.
Misinformation on Instagram did not receive as much scrutiny in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 US election, as experts heavily focused on how the campaign played out on Facebook and Twitter. But that’s changed in the past year, especially as experts like Barrett warn that Instagram is a prime target for bad actors.
The service has seen rapid growth in recent years, and it’s especially popular among younger users. The company’s visually focused interface also lends itself to memes, photos and videos; which experts say could be a key vehicle to spread misinformation.
“Instagram has been a problem all along, but for whatever reason we don’t pay as much attention to it,” Barrett said earlier this year.
But there are some key limitations to Instagram’s initiative. Posts and ads from politicians will be exempt from Instagram’s global fact-checking program as they are on Facebook, said company spokesman Andy Stone. That won’t change as Instagram expands its fact checking efforts. Political ads from outside groups will be eligible for fact-checking, however.
Even when fact-checkers identify a post as false, it will still usually remain available on Instagram. Like Facebook, Instagram will largely seek to limit the content’s spread. It will apply a label that states a fact-checking partner has marked the post false, and it will reduce distribution of the post on the service and will prevent it from appearing in the Explore or hashtag pages. The company has said that people should be able to decide for themselves what to read and trust.
The expanded Instagram initiative comes as criticism of Facebook’s fact-checking program has intensified. A Columbia Journalism Review story reported that Facebook’s fact-checking partners have criticised the company for not being transparent enough. Full Fact, one of Facebook’s nonprofit partners, said the company needs to speed up its responses to the fact-checks.
In addition to the US elections, antitrust scrutiny could be a key motivation for Facebook to make a greater investment in fighting misinformation across its platforms. Facebook executives have argued the company’s large size is actually a benefit when it comes to investing in guarding against misinformation, and they might argue breaking the company up would limit their ability to fight false posts across services.