Instagram May Be Facebook’s Biggest Problem

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Hate, lies and conspiracies are alive and well on Instagram.

If you thought Facebook has problems, it might be well worth your time to read The Atlantic’s article, Instagram Is the Internet’s New Home for Hate, from last week. The article, while not surprising, weaves the web of how hate, misinformation and real #fakenews is thriving on this emerging and growing social platform. Can’t Instagram police itself? Can’t Facebook step in (Facebook acquired Instagram for around $1 billion in 2012)? The problem is that Facebook is now trying to put out multiple fires, and if you think the algorithm and artificial intelligence that they have is going to solve the problem, you’ve been drinking too many Aldebaran Whiskeys (Google that). The technology is not going to fix this. The technology may enhance Facebook’s ability to identity offenders (and get rid of them faster), but if you did deep into this The Atlantic story, you will quickly realize that these accounts, individuals and spreaders of negativity walk a thin an gray line that often makes it impossible to catch and shut down.

What kind of Internet do we want?

From the article: “The platform is likely where the next great battle against misinformation will be fought, and yet it has largely escaped scrutiny. Part of this is due to its reputation among older users, who generally use it to post personal photos, follow aspirational accounts, and keep in touch with friends. Many teenagers, however, use the platform differently—not only to connect with friends, but to explore their identity, and often to consume information about current events. Jack, a 16-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym to protect his identity, has learned a lot about politics through Instagram. In 2020, he’ll be able to vote for the first time, and so he recently started following some new Instagram pages to bone up on issues facing the country. ‘I try to follow both sides just to see what everyone’s thinking,’ he said. While he’s struggled to find many compelling pages on the left, he said he’s learned a lot from following large conservative Instagram meme pages such as @dc_draino and @the_typical_liberal, which has nearly 1 million followers and claims to be ‘saving GenZ one meme at a time.’ Recent posts include a joke about running over protesters in the street, an Infowars video posted to IGTV, and a meme about feminists being ugly. ‘It’s important to have The Typical Liberal and DC Draino to expose the [media’s] lies, so we can formulate our own opinions,’ Jack told me.”

Regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, Facebook and YouTube get a lot of heat and Instagram is getting a pass.

When Instagram gets a pass, it becomes a loophole for those who want their own ideas to spread. When it runs (somewhat) unchecked, a thousand flowers blossom and we have a whole lot of gardens that require some serious weeding. Here’s what Instagram and Facebook told the reporter in The Atlantic article (via email): “[the company and Facebook] continue to study trends in organized hate and hate speech and work with partners to better understand hate organizations as they evolve. We ban these organizations and individuals from Instagram and also remove all praise and support when we become aware of it. We will continue to review content, accounts, and people that violate our policies and take action against hate speech and hate organizations to help keep our community safe.” 

Good stance. Proper crisis management message, but where is the proof?

Instagram is not for “The Olds”, so we also have a younger generation of impressionable people in there, and that adds to its fertile soil. If you were trying to change opinion, recruit soldiers (thought soldiers or otherwise), where would you turn? Facebook is so busy working on solving their own issues, who knows how much focus is being put into the problems arising on Instagram? The added (and terrifying) feature here is that we tend to ignore the spaces that young people occupy. We dismiss them as silly spaces… innocuous… nothing to worry about. Then… suddenly… problems… big problems that become (almost) unsolvable. Maybe the problem with Instagram is one that we catch early (if it’s not too late)?

“In December, Wired reported that Instagram had become the ‘go-to’ social network for the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm notorious for meddling in U.S. elections. A report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee declared that ‘Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency’ to spread misinformation. ‘Instagram has the power of Twitter to broadcast out, but the infrastructure of Facebook supporting it,’ says Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University who directs a center on digital forensics. ‘It has the best of all platforms.’”

I guess Instagram is the best, after all… but the best at what?