Instagram’s algorithm pushes users towards COVID-19 misinformation, study finds

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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.

elections that Instagram had flagged as election-related posts.
Credit: CCDH