Instagram’s algorithm recommends COVID-19 and anti-vaccination misinformation to potentially millions of users, according to a new report.
Test used by the Center for Combating Digital Hate (CCDH) accounts to review the recommendations on Instagram’s Explore page and the new suggested post feature.
They found that the tools encouraged users to see the misinformation and then push those who engage with the posts to other extremist content:
If a user follows anti-vaxxers, they are fed the QAnon plot and anti-Semitic hatred; if they engage in conspiracies, they are fed election and anti-vaxx misinformation.
The researchers generated the recommendations by creating 15 Instagram profiles and following different lists of accounts, from health authorities to anti-vaxxers.
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They logged into Instagram accounts every day and recorded the recommendations they received.
Since the suggested posts feature doesn’t trigger for new accounts that haven’t interacted with the posts, users scrolled through their feeds and Explore section, and liked random posts to generate suggested content.
They then captured the recommendations they received between September 14 and November 16, 2020.
In total, Instagram recommended 104 posts containing disinformation. More than half of them concerned COVID-19, while a fifth concerned vaccines and a tenth the US elections.
Users also received recommendations for posts promoting QAnon’s conspiracy theory and anti-Semitic content. The only profiles that were not recommended for disinformation were exclusively following recognized health authorities.
Imran Ahmed, CEO of CCDH, said Instagram is deliberately promoting extremist disinformation:
Previous research shows that disinformation is shared and elicits more engagement than truths on social media. Worse yet, a high engagement count increases the likelihood that neutral watchers will engage with the content. For Instagram and its algorithms, a click is a win, regardless of the content.
The CCDH published an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, owner of Instagram, urging him to to deactivate and fix “the broken algorithm”.
In response to the report, a Facebook spokesperson said the research was five months out of date and based on “an extremely small sample” of 104 posts.
However, Instagram users pointed out that Instagram still recommends disinformation today.
Facebook claimed this morning that a study on questionable recommended content on the Instagram platform carried out by @CCDHate was “obsolete” because changes had been implemented. Here is today’s content pic.twitter.com/YhSmEBb7MA
– lee harpin (@lmharpin) March 9, 2021
You can read the CCDH report here.
Published March 9, 2021 – 19:26 UTC