While Facebook and Twitter received the lion’s share of attention in connection with Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, Instagram, the photo- and video-posting platform, could be a major site for disinformation in the 2020 election.
Instagram is now one of the fastest-growing social media platforms. It has more than 1 billion active users and is very popular among millennials, most of whom will be old enough to vote in 2020. More than half of US Millennials are active on Instagram, according to eMarketer.
Most importantly, Instagram is more engaging than Facebook and Twitter, despite having the fewest monthly active users, according to the data shared by Axios.
According to a number of experts, Memes, and videos are set to become the dominant forms of election misinformation around the 2020 election. That means Instagram’s image-oriented service makes it a particularly crucial battleground for election manipulation efforts. Memes are an increasingly popular vehicle for disinformation. Deepfake videos are another potential danger on Instagram. Designed using artificial intelligence (AI), deepfakes could be used to present candidates as saying or doing things they have never said or done.
In addition, Instagram is still regarded as a place of harmless snaps of sunsets and cakes, mostly attractive for young “influencers”, so users don’t realize its potential of disinformation.
But politics long ago infected the platform. According to a report commissioned by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Instagram was “perhaps the most effective platform” that the Internet Research Agency used to target voters in the last election. The report adds that in 2017 Russian propagandists shifted much of their activities to Instagram after media coverage of their Facebook and Twitter operations.
In August, Facebook announced that “false information” labels that categorize posts that have been debunked by its fact-checkers will be added on Instagram so its users can flag dubious content as they encounter it. It also announced measures to combat the spread of fake news in the electoral context, like combating “inauthentic behavior” and protecting the accounts of candidates, elected officials, their teams and others through Facebook Protect.
However, all the warning signs are on red alert regarding Instagram. And specialists are sounding the alarm so that what happened during the 2016 US election does not happen again in 2020.