Thanks to labeling and fact checking, President Trump is having more trouble than usual spewing his lies on Facebook and Twitter. But his followers are happy to take up the mantle, falsely alleging voter fraud and making premature declarations of victory, on parts of the internet that are more difficult to moderate.
That includes the ecosystem of election-related content on IGTV, Instagram’s video portal. While IGTV videos get posted to users’ feeds, they also appear in designated IGTV tabs, both in the explore tab and on some users’ profiles; this is where the lack of labeling occurs. Mashable found that Instagram does not as consistently or readily apply labels — whether general information about the election, and in some cases, labels warning about potentially false statements — when viewers navigate to IGTV videos within IGTV tabs.
Part of Facebook’s answer to combatting election misinformation has been to append election-related posts with a link to more information from verified sources. The idea is that this political content deserves more context, whether it’s your sister-in-law telling you to vote, or Eric Trump making false claims about voter fraud. In cases of declaring premature victory, it has been including the label “Votes are being counted. The winner of the 2020 US presidential election has not been projected.”
Mashable found that videos within IGTV — both those that simply contain election content, and those featuring election misinformation — do not appear to receive the otherwise ubiquitous link to accurate information. The same videos, when reached via “Feed” (your personal feed, or an account’s feed), do get the label.
For example, Breitbart’s Instagram profile has three tabs: the post grid, IGTV, and tagged posts. All election posts, including videos, in the post grid, come with the “See the latest updates on the 2020 U.S. election” label and link. But toggle to the next tab over — IGTV — and you’ll see much of the same content, sans any labels. This appears to be the case for left-leaning outlets, like MSNBC, as well.
[Editor’s note: Images/stills from Instagram have been blacked out by Mashable for photo copyright reasons.]
Instagram said that IGTV videos are eligible for fact-checking labels, just like other kinds of Instagram content. It said that IGTV videos do receive the election labels, too, which are displayed in Feed.
“Video content on Instagram is subject to review by third-party fact-checkers and must also comply with our Community Guidelines,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We have a variety of tools at our disposal to slow down the spread of content that is rated false by fact-checkers, or remove entirely if it breaks our rules.”
The challenge of moderating video is not unique to IGTV. Multiple reports have found instances of misinformation about the election spreading only lightly checked, or totally unchecked, on Facebook Live and YouTube.
One video at the center of controversy has been a report from the right-wing One America News Network, entitled “Trump won. MSM [mainstream media] hopes you don’t believe your eyes.” CNBC reported that YouTube would not take down the video, although it did stop the ability to advertise on the video, and add a label at the bottom reading “Results may not be final. See the latest on Google.”
The same video posted on One America News Networks’ Instagram feed gets the label “See the latest updates on the 2020 US Election.” However, it does not even get that when reached from within IGTV.
Instagram said the video has been sent to fact checkers for review.
Video is more challenging to moderate — and especially moderate quickly — than text, said Zarine Kharazian, an associate editor at the Digital Forensic Research Lab, which has been studying the spread of election misinformation. Visually-oriented platforms have focused their anti-misinformation efforts on combatting doctored images and videos, as opposed to claims made in videos. Experts say this had made them less effective at stemming the misinformation tide than text-based platforms.
“Image and video based platforms are a couple steps behind Facebook and Twitter, which have started to realize that they need to have clear and consistent policies based on moderated content, rather than behavior or technical manipulation,” Kharazian said. “What’s really hard about live videos is that they’re literally unfolding in real time, and if you don’t have someone monitoring it ahead of time, then by the time you append the fact check, the livestream is up and people have seen the content.”
While Facebook’s fact-checking around premature victory appears robust in text platforms, it seems to be lacking in video. A Buzzfeed investigation into Facebook Live found that the platform was recommending videos that included election misinformation from disreputable, hyper-partisan sources, as well as content from Russian-state sponsored RT News.
Failing to give the more specific label to some premature victory videos in Instagram, and with apparently no election labeling in IGTV tabs, shows another blind spot.
IGTV is not necessarily the way most people find content on Instagram. Users cannot search IGTV by topic, only by users. However, in 2019, Instagram redesigned its explore tab to more prominently feature IGTV. Now, when users click IGTV, they’ll see a customized list of recommended videos tailored to them. Some accounts, like Breitbart as above, also feature IGTV specifically on their profiles.
The longer the election results remain uncertain, the more time there is for misinformation to spread online, manifesting in tense real world situations. With the literal fate of our democracy at stake, blind spots can’t afford to be ignored.