The Technology 202: Instagram is going global with its fact-checking program to limit misinformation

The Technology 202: Instagram is going global with its fact-checking program to limit misinformation

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Facebook is increasing its efforts to thwart misinformation on Instagram, which it owns. 

The company announced yesterday that Instagram’s fact-checking program is going global, allowing 45 third-party organizations to review and label false information on the platform. Instagram began fact-checking in the U.S. earlier this year, after a pair of 2018 reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee 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 labeled false by fact-checkers on Facebook, it will now also be labeled 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 M. Barrett, a New York University professor who authored a report on the ways disinformation could alter the 2020 elections, told me. 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 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 in 2020. 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, deputy director at NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told me in an interview 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, company spokesman Andy Stone confirms. 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. My colleague Tonya Riley reported in a Technology 202 newsletter earlier this year that experts were skeptical Instagram’s U.S. fact-checking program would have a major impact on the rate of false information on the service. 

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 criticized 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 U.S. 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.

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine writes:


BITS: Most new cars sold in the United States in the 2020 model year will come with built-in Internet connections — enabling automakers to quietly record data about your every move. But there are virtually no federal laws regulating how automakers collect that data or what they can do with it, my colleague Geoffrey A. Fowler reports

For the average consumer, surveillance by automakers has become hard to avoid. Geoffrey enlisted the help of forensic engineer Jim Mason to hack his way in. They were able to find a detailed log of phone calls and a long list of contacts right down to people’s addresses, emails and photos from the “infotainment” system of one Chevy Volt. A used system purchased off eBay turned up similar data — enough to reconstruct a stranger’s relationships and where she ate Chinese food. 

That’s just scratching the surface of the data that might be available. “Mason has hacked into Fords that record locations once every few minutes, even when you don’t use the navigation system,” Geoffrey writes. “He’s seen German cars with 300 gigabyte hard drives — five times as much as a basic iPhone 11. The Tesla Model 3 can collect video snippets from the car’s many cameras. Coming next: face data, used to personalize the vehicle and track driver attention.”

GM, which makes Chevy, does little to clarify its data collect practices for owners. The automaker just pointed Geoffrey to a hard to decipher privacy policy and ignored requests for information on who the company shared the data with.

Car companies might be forced to change their ways in January, when a landmark California privacy law beings requiring any company that collects personal data about the state’s residents to provide access to the data and give people the ability to opt out of its sharing.  GM said it would comply with the new law, but didn’t say how, Geoffrey reports.

NIBBLES: Moderators tasked with reviewing potential violent extremism on Google and YouTube report suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, The Verge’s Casey Newton reports. The findings highlight the dangerous working conditions of tech’s contract “shadow workforce,” who receive far less in pay and benefits than tech companies’ full-time employees. 

“Every day you watch someone beheading someone, or someone shooting his girlfriend,” Peter, a contractor at Austin-based Accenture who makes $18.50 after two years at the company, told Casey. “This makes you feel ill. You’re feeling there is nothing worth living for.” Peter took two months of unpaid leave to deal with the physical and mental toll of the work. 

Like Peter, many of the workers who vet potential terrorist content are immigrants with Arabic language proficiency. They worry that speaking out about their work conditions could compromise their immigration status, Casey reports. Austin moderators such as Peter are required to view five hours of gruesome video per day, despite promises from YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki last year to cap that number at four hours per day.

Kristie Canegallo, Google’s vice president of trust and safety, defended Google’s use of contractors. “Contracting with vendor companies really does help us have flexibility to adjust to changing demands,” Canegallo told Casey. Google works on getting moderators “the best support possible to be doing their job,” she says.

BYTES: A pair of Las Vegas computer programmers pleaded guilty last week to operating massive unauthorized streaming services that authorities say rivaled the libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, my colleague Taylor Telford reports. The crackdown on the illegal libraries, which allegedly cost copyright owners millions, highlights the federal government’s growing effort to shut down piracy services.

 iStreamItAll, one of the illegal services shuttered by the feds, earned more than $1 million for operators. The commercial-free service charged monthly users $19.99 a month to access over 118,000 TV episodes and almost 11,000 movies. Jetflicks, the other service run by the programmers, cost $9.99 a month and brought in $750,000 a year, according to court documents. The prices mirror that of a typical legit streaming service, but with significantly greater content options.

Piracy sites probably will face greater scrutiny as big studios betting on streaming dedicate more resources to cracking down on the illegal sites. In late October, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment established an anti-piracy group that includes big studios such as Warner Bros., Disney, Netflix and Comcast.


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  • Diane Rinaldo, acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is stepping down, The Hill reports.



  • The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law will host an all-day event “Exploring the Intersection: Online Hate and Privacy” starting at 9:00am

—Coming up:

  • CES will take place January 7-10 in Las Vegas

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