Instagram recommends misinformation to users, report claims

Millions of Instagram users may be seeing misinformation through the app’s recommendations (Credits: Getty Images/iStockphoto) Instagram is recommending anti-vaccination and coronavirus misinformation to potentially millions of users, a new report has claimed.

A study from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and charity Restless Development says the social media platform is suggesting content to users that includes conspiracy theories about Covid-19 as well as anti-Semitic and other harmful content.

It claimed that as well as health misinformation and anti-Semitic content, conspiracy theories tied to QAnon and false claims about the US presidential election were also being promoted by Instagram’s algorithms.

The report said posts and accounts were recommended to test accounts created by researchers to study Instagram’s recommendation features, which serve content and accounts to users based on their interests.

CCDH and Restless Development warned ‘millions’ of Instagram users may be receiving the same recommendations, being exposed to harmful misinformation as a result.

Instagram said it had previously taken steps to slow the spread of the types of misinformation raised in the report and added the research was ‘five months out of date’.

Social media platforms – including Facebook which owns Instagram – have pledged to clamp down on misinformation and other harmful content which circulates on its networks following repeated criticism on the issue.

However, the report said its test accounts were recommended posts that included false claims such as Covid-19 was not real and that vaccines were unsafe – with some posts coming from the accounts of well-known conspiracy theorists.

The findings were made by creating new Instagram accounts simulating the experience of new users by giving each a range of different interests, with some focusing on subjects such as wellness and health, while others followed conspiracy theorists and white supremacist accounts.

The recommendations for all the accounts were then tracked and recorded, with more than 100 recommendations containing misinformation recorded during the study.

Last September, a previous report from the CCDH accused social media platforms of failing to act on anti-vaccine misinformation related to coronavirus, even when it is reported to them.

It said 95% of more than 900 anti-vaccine posts from across different platforms had failed to be removed even after being reported to the companies involved, which it claimed showed the tech firms were failing to act on their own policies.

Misinformation around Covid-19 has been circulating on social media since the pandemic began (Credits: Getty Images) The latest study looked at the content recommended through Instagram’s Explore page as well as the Suggested Posts feature, which was first introduced last year....