We think of Instagram as a place to post artsy photos of our salads or see jealousy-inducing photos of our friend's vacations. But something more insidious has been lurking on our feeds: false information. Two weeks ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee called Instagram the "most effective tool" in manipulating elections on its report on interference in the 2016 election. In order to prepare for the 2020 election, and for the onslaught of propaganda, Instagram is launching a new feature – a false information label that will make fake news easier to detect.
If you share something that might not be true, you'll get a pop up saying, "Independent fact-checkers say this post includes false information. Your post will include a notice saying it's false. Are you sure you want to share?" You can still share it, but the post will bear the false information label.
The false information label will cover posts that has been debunked by fact checkers, and will be less likely to show up in people's feeds. You'll still be able to click on "see post," and you can click on "see why" to check out why the post was labeled as false information.
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The changes are meant to deter election interference and "protect the democratic process." It's an attempt to stop bogus info from going viral. "In addition to clearer labels, we're also working to take faster action to prevent misinformation from going viral, especially given that quality reporting and fact-checking takes time. In many countries, including in the US, if we have signals that a piece of content is false, we temporarily reduce its distribution pending review by third-party fact-checkers," Facebook (which owns Instagram) wrote in a blog post titled "Helping to Protect the 2020 US Elections."
It's great that they're taking steps to make the internet a safer place, but it's also important to learn how to spot it on your own. Researchers at New York University found that those aged 65 and older were more likely to share false information, regardless of party affiliation. It's believed that this is because this demographic has less digital literacy.
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You're not always going to have algorithms and apps at your fingertips, but you can do your own fact-checking by looking at the source of the information to see if it comes from a reputable site or account. What support does the information have? Are there actual facts and statistics to back it up? Or does the statement seem to be based in emotion?
It's also important to check more than just your facts. You should also check your bias. The Pew Research Center says that one of the reasons why false information spreads is because of confirmation bias. People who share fake news aren't necessarily trying to spread misinformation, but rather, communicate about something they feel passionate about.
While it would have been great to have this Instagram feature four years ago, at least we're getting it now. Hopefully, this time around things won't turn into as much of a messy, messy circus.
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