Assessing Instagram and Twitter’s Attempts to Curb Misinformation

As the spread of misinformation continues to overtake the Internet, social media unfortunately serves as a channel for those wishing to spread falsehoods in a quick, efficient manner. While social media platforms do the best they can, misinformation is still difficult to combat and no platform is doing so perfectly. However, even little steps that are being taken to prevent fake news from spreading are important, and each platform has its own methods of doing so. In this post, I am examining the methods used by Twitter and Instagram to curb misinformation on their platforms.

To begin, it is important to note that these methods are changing all the time as new ways of spreading fake news become more pervasive. As Twitter is now owned by Elon Musk, some of the guidelines are subject to change. However, according to their terms of service, Twitter’s main goal is to facilitate healthy public dialogues without allowing unlabelled misleading information on their platform.

Twitter does not remove posts solely for being misleading unless it is determined that the consequences of such info could be “immediate or severe.” Otherwise, a Tweet must be breaking Terms of Service by being classified as a threat or hate speech (and unfortunately, even these kinds of Tweets are not always removed from the platform and are detected to be on the rise under Elon Musk’s ownership.) 

Instead, Twitter has a team of fact-checkers that will label content that is misleading or incorrect, as well as limit the promotion of the content so that it is less likely to reach the masses. This process is known as “shadowbanning” and limits the visibility of a user’s content without notifying them that this is happening. While controversial, it is not uncommon.

If someone goes to Retweet something that fact-checkers have determined is false, the user will be asked if they wish to share information that has been deemed false. Similarly, Twitter will also ask users if they wish to share an article that has not been read yet. During important events, such as elections, Twitter will post “prebunks” that remain as banners on users’ timelines that state facts before fake news can appear. This helps to warn users that fake news may appear on their timelines and encourage them to listen to the facts. Furthermore, Twitter users can report misinformation in order to have it labeled and potentially removed from the site. 

Instagram has taken strides of its own to ensure that fake news does not dominate the platform. In May 2019, Instagram began working with third-party fact-checkers to monitor the content that was being posted on the platform. This includes static photo posts, videos, reels, and stories. For a time this initiative was only in the United States, but it has since expanded globally. 

If something has been deemed false by these fact-checkers, a warning will appear on the content before users can see it. It also gives users the option to see why content has been deemed false and typically displays feedback from multiple fact-checkers. This provides more context for users and helps confirm fact checkers claims. Similarly to Twitter, Instagram also limits the reach that false content is able to have and gives users who encounter false info the option to report it as such.

However, in 2020, some users were being targeted by advertisements spreading false Covid-19 information. From September to November of that year, a study conducted by the UK-based nonprofit, Center for Countering Digital Hate, found that Instagram recommended 104 posts containing misinformation to the 15 test accounts it set up. This was an average of one post a week per profile. Given the subject matter, promoting this kind of content was extremely dangerous. While Instagram has since improved its Covid-19 fact-checking, it is still possible for misinformation to be spread.

Overall, both Twitter and Instagram make an effort to combat fake news and minimize its spread. However, neither platform does so perfectly, nor do they claim to. Users are provided the option to form their own opinions about content, even if it has been deemed false. Both platforms strive to maintain freedom of expression while still protecting the service’s integrity.

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