Starting this week, Facebook will begin a test to fact-check Instagram posts. Poynter reports that potentially false photos and memes shared on Instagram will be sent to the same dashboard that Facebook’s fact-checking partners — specialists like Factcheck.org as well as traditional news agencies like Associated Press — already use to identify misinformation on Facebook itself. If flagged as false, the distribution of these Instagram posts will be reduced to limit their spread.
In particular, flagged posts will stop appearing in Instagram’s Explore tab or hashtag results pages. The flagged posts will, however, still appear if you follow the Instagram account directly. So Instagram will be limiting their reach rather than censoring the content. The service is also testing additional features like pop-ups that appear when you search for topics like anti-vaccination, known for being used to spread misinformation. This is similar to the annotations YouTube now provides.
Facebook’s partnerships with fact-checking organizations started in December 2016 in an effort to combat misinformation on its platform. Since its launch, the initiative has grown to include 52 partner organizations across 33 countries, and Facebook has expanded its scope to include groups where misinformation is frequently shared.
Critics have questioned whether Facebook is right to use such a similar approach on Instagram as it already does on Facebook. One Politifact director quoted by Poynter notes that Instagram’s posts work very differently to Facebook, with less news content and fewer hyperlinks to external sites. It’s unclear whether the same approach is appropriate for such a different platform.
It’s not like Facebook’s current face-checking initiative isn’t without its problems. In December last year, The Guardian reported that the program was in “disarray” amid accusations that the social network was not taking the efforts seriously. In February 2019, Snopes parted ways with Facebook, deciding that its resources would be better spent fact-checking the whole web rather than just Facebook’s platform. ABC News has also dropped out as of October last year.