Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Instagram Accounts Promoting Discrimination, Hate, and Conspiracy Theories Are Thriving

Taylor Lorenz, the Atlantic:

Instagram is teeming with these conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes, all daisy-chained together via a network of accounts with incredible algorithmic reach and millions of collective followers — many of whom, like Alex, are very young. These accounts intersperse TikTok videos and nostalgia memes with anti-vaccination rhetoric, conspiracy theories about George Soros and the Clinton family, and jokes about killing women, Jews, Muslims, and liberals.

[…]

Following just a handful of these accounts can quickly send users spiraling down a path toward even more extremist views and conspiracies, guided by Instagram’s own recommendation algorithm. On March 17, I clicked Follow on @the_typical_liberal. My account lit up with follow requests from pages with handles alluding to QAnon, and the app immediately prompted me to follow far-right figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Alex Jones, and Candace Owens, as well as a slew of far-right meme pages such as @unclesamsmisguidedchildren and @the.new.federation. Following these pages resulted in suggestions for pages dedicated to promoting QAnon, chemtrails, Pizzagate, and anti-vaccination rhetoric.

[…]

By Monday, there were five videos of the Christchurch attack posted by meme pages in my feed. Four of them are still up, and on Tuesday, another was surfaced at the top of my feed. The captions on all the videos question the validity of the attack and claim that it was a false flag carried out by the U.S. government.

Many of the individuals that Lorenz interviews for this article are 16; by Election Day 2020, some will turn 18 having only trusted this cynical, bizarre, surreal, and entirely fictional feed of current events. This isn’t just a problem for kids; you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think these accounts also have plenty of voting-age followers who isolate themselves within this bubble every time their feed refreshes.

I find myself increasingly convinced that there are fundamental design failures in these platforms, and they’re exacerbated by scale and machine learning.