A new study from a leftist group claims that Instagram uses its recommendations to promote “dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories.” But the study was vague about what that even means.
The study design was as biased as the group behind it. The leftist group responsible for the study has been pushing to deplatform sites like The Federalist and ZeroHedge. It was founded by a self-described “expert in online malignant behaviour” who is unabashedly anti-free market. Exemplifying the study’s lack of objectivity, the leftist group behind the study decided what constituted “dangerous misinformation” and selected Instagram accounts that might generate the most concerning recommendations.
The study, released March 9, started by creating new Instagram accounts that each followed a different list of accounts compiled by Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). These lists included accounts CCDH had previously concluded were problematic in other studies.
CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed likened Facebook-owned Instagram’s suggestion algorithm to a Toyota safety issue that led to “up to 89 deaths” in an op-ed he wrote for the New York Daily News. Ahmed insisted that Instagram must immediately “recall” its suggestion algorithm as Toyota recalled the affected vehicles.
“Just because it’s harder to show the cause-and-effect link between the Instagram algorithm and COVID deaths doesn’t mean that the Instagram algorithm hasn’t been a ‘car wreck.’”
Volunteers working on the study noted when Instagram served up suggested posts that contained what it termed “misinformation.” Staff members trained volunteers “to identify common forms of misinformation,” including how to “draw on online resources such as fact-checkers.”
There are many problems with fact-checkers. Facebook’s fact-checkers are all part of the liberal Poynter Institute's International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), which received $1.3 million from liberal billionaires George Soros and Pierre Omidyar. A report from December 2020 also revealed that one of the certifiers working at IFCN was a highly partisan Clinton supporter. Lead Stories, which has performed a significant percentage of the fact-checks on Facebook at times, is run by eight former CNN alumni. USA Today, reportedly used college interns to help with its fact-checking.
The CCDH has consistently targeted right-leaning outlets. CCDH successfully targeted ZeroHedge, resulting in the site being removed from Google’s AdSense program. CCDH also reported briefly succeeding in getting The Federalist removed as well, with help from NBC News. But Google allowed the conservative news site back on after it removed its comment section. The Federalist and ZeroHedge were on a “Defund Racism” “blocklist” that a CCDH project titled “Stop Funding Fake News” put out. The blocklist targeted what it called “U.S-based, racist Fake News sites.” Other sites on the blocklist included: American Greatness, Moonbattery, American Thinker, Big League Politics, WND, The Washington Standard, Gateway Pundit and Breitbart.
Exposing its leftist leanings, CCDH has promoted some of its successes on its website:
“CCDH have also forced social media companies to establish precedent and remove hateful or dangerous speech by holding them directly accountable for their tolerance of hateful content. The Center's solutions have proven effective against a number of different types of hate and misinformation, like identity-based hate, climate change denial and health misinformation.”
Imran Ahmed, founder and CEO of CCDH, has a history as an activist for Britain’s leftist Labour Party. He also co-authored a book attacking free market economist Friedrich Hayek titled “The New Serfdom: The Triumph of Conservative Ideas and How to Defeat Them.” Simon Clark, Chairman of the Board for CCDH, is a nonresident senior fellow at the leftist Center for American Progress. The other board members also have clear leftist ties as well.
For the study, titled “Malgorithm: How Instagram’s Algorithm Publishes Misinformation and Hate to Millions During a Pandemic,” CCDH partnered with Restless Development, a UK-based youth leadership NGO. The group gets funding from leftist groups such as the Ford Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The results of a study designed and conducted by a clearly leftist partnership are not surprising. Some examples of suggested posts that the study deemed “dangerous” instead appear to simply be contrary to the left’s narrative. One post listed the infection fatality rates for COVID in different age groups, and explained, “It’s now common knowledge that PCR tests produce absurd numbers of false positives, so the data we have is severely inflated.” Another post showed a picture of a vaccine insert, focusing on possible side effects, and asked: “What’s in a vaccine package insert? The answer may surprise you!” Others have featured quotes that cite medical journal articles.
When NPR asked Facebook about the CCDH study, a Facebook spokesperson reportedly responded in part that the research was “five months out of date.” The unverified CCDH account pushed back on Twitter, citing recommendations from March 9. The account claimed that Instagram had “recommended” posts that it claimed included “vaccine lies and antisemitism.” One post detailed statistics drawn from Health Freedom Florida. The data found there cited the CDC’s VAERS COVID reports on adverse effects that were reported after receiving one of the COVID vaccines.
The study also suggested that users who are not following any of the “dangerous” accounts do not receive concerning recommended posts. However, USA Today summarized the findings by saying that “Instagram’s ‘suggested’ posts recommended anti-vaccination content to users,” not specifying which users.
NPR gave more breakdown on which users were suggested questionable content, but added the following:
“The only profiles that were not served up misinformation followed, exclusively, recognized health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation.”
No data was collected on accounts that followed innocuous accounts and trusted health authorities, or only innocuous accounts. It is therefore disingenuous to imply that “only users who strictly followed only health authorities did not receive recommendations for misinformation,” though the study suggested as much in its “Executive Summary.”
Not only has CCDH peddled a study that it designed using its own definition of what is “dangerous misinformation,” it has also inflated the importance of its findings. The study title claimed the findings indicate that “misinformation and hate” have been suggested “to millions.” The study methodology stated that of the 73 accounts followed in the study, 63 “have over 9.9 million followers, making it likely that our findings apply to millions of Instagram users.” However, there did not appear to be an accounting for the likelihood of the same users following multiple of these similar accounts, which would likely bring the 9.9 million figure down significantly.
Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representative and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on “hate speech” and equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us at the Media Research Center contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.