You can now report a suspicious Instagram post and expect a certified U.S. fact-checker to verify it

August 15, 2019
Category: Uncategorized

Starting today, Instagram users can report false content and expect certified fact-checkers to analyze its veracity. (Full disclosure: This work will be done by a group of verified signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles.)

Facebook announced today it is expanding its Third Party Fact-Checking Program (3PFC) to the photo- and video-sharing social network it bought seven years ago. The technical rollout starts today in the United States and should take two weeks to reach all international users.

To report suspicious content, users will only have to click on the three dots in the upper right corner of each Instagram post, choose “it’s inappropriate” and then “false information.” Then the posts will be reviewed by IFCN members, who are already working with 3PFC in more than 30 countries.

Posts tagged as false by fact-checkers will not be deleted from the platform. According to Stephanie Otway, an Instagram spokesperson, such posts will be downplayed on “explore” and “hashtag” pages.

Here’s an example of how the flagging and checking will take place: Let’s say someone posts an image saying that 2+2=5 and uses the hashtag #MathExpert to promote its publication on Instagram. The moment a certified fact-checker rates this post as false, this piece of content stops being shown at the #MathExpert hashtag page.

“In Facebook, posts become popular by shares. On Instagram, people use multiple hashtags to promote their pieces of content and have them showing up on many different pages,” explained Otway. “This is where we will be working on.”

What’s different?

At least for now, the process for fact-checking Instagram will be different from what happens with the Third Party Fact-Checking Program inside Facebook’s News Feed. In the new ecosystem, the person who posts reported content will not be notified about the verification process, nor about the fact-checker’s conclusion at the end of it.

Instagram is clear about what it wants to achieve with this program: to get as many “signals” as possible from humans (users and fact-checkers) as a means to train its artificial intelligence and stop having to rely on community only for spotting misinformation.

Reaction worldwide

Some members of the international fact-checking community welcomed Instagram’s announcement but also raised questions about technical issues and transparency. Some months ago, Facebook said 3PFC would expand to Instagram, but no training was offered to fact-checkers yet — and there is none on the horizon. Otway said, however, the company welcomes partners’ feedbacks.

“The reporting option we’re announcing will not lead to any changes in the fact-checking tool, but fact-checkers in the US may see more content appearing in their Instagram-specific tabs” said Otway, when asked about the tools and software used every day in the project. “Ratings will be the same: true, false, misleading and so on.”

She said that if a piece of content shows up on Facebook and is rated as false there, fact-checkers will only need to hit an extra button to have it rated on Instagram, too. If the opposite happens — if a false Instagram link gets to Facebook — it will be identified as such.

Tai Nalon, executive director and co-founder of Aos Fatos in Brazil, said her company believes that partnering with Instagram is good news.

“We know that images — memes, altered videos and photos, videos and photos without context — are very popular vectors of misinformation. However, we have been reiterating to Facebook that the most important thing about flagging fake or distorted content is to make it clear why it happened.”

Nalon emphasized how important it is for the fact-checking community to “objectively and didactically show what is wrong” in every piece of misinformation that gets verified. In her opinion, the fact that Instagram hasn’t planned to inform its users when their posts are rated as false goes against this idea.

Lucas Graves, an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin, said he celebrates the partnership but points out that Instagram is a unique environment with its own flavors of fake content.

“Almost certainly a lot of fine-tuning (in 3PFC) will be needed down the road,” he said. “This is a chance for Facebook to be more transparent than it has been about the implementation and effectiveness of these efforts, and about what role it envisions for its fact-checking partners in the long term.”

Will Moy, chief executive at Full Fact in the U.K., which published a report July 31 suggesting 3PFC expand to Instagram, was surprised by the announcement. He said he wished he and his team had been notified sooner.

The Third Party Fact-Checking Program represents a lot of daily work inside a fact-checking newsroom and, until today, has been covered by a very strict contract between Facebook and each one of its partners (some non-disclosure agreements keep them from being public about the details).

Moy said he knows that adding pieces of content extracted from Instagram to the list of items to be verified could have a great impact on editorial choices and on his teams’ routine.

No details about further payments were discussed with Facebook or Instagram. Otway later clarified that only U.S.-based fact-checkers will be verifying Instagram posts at this moment.

Moy emphasizes that the basis of the Third Party Fact-Checking Program has always been the idea of giving people more information to help them make better choices.

“Recognizing that everybody makes mistakes and offering them the chance to responsibly make a correction is very important,” he said. “By not telling people, by not giving the opportunity to correct a post, Facebook and Instagram weaken the program and we all move to a situation where platforms control what is being said. It is important to act openly.”

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that only U.S.-based fact-checkers will be verifying Instagram posts at the beginning of this program.

Note: the author is the founder of the Brazilian fact-checking newswire service Agência Lupa, a 3PFC partner.