The Guardian view on Instagram’s troll farms: meme warfare | Editorial

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Mark Zuckerberg downplayed the role of his fastest-growing arm of his social media empire in Russian troll operations. Why? And what ought to be the consequence?

When Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the United States Congress earlier this year, the Silicon Valley billionaire focused on the role of the social media platform he founded, Facebook, in the face of criticism that lax protection of users’ data jeopardises democracy. The reckoning had been a long time coming: Facebook’s data-harvesting machine has been at the root of the company’s failure to stamp out fake news and various forms of Russian meddling. Yet in his prepared statement to US senators, Mr Zuckerberg skated over the threat to society posed by Facebook’s fastest-growing division: Instagram. That might have been because the danger was too small to worry about. But perhaps there was a commercial reason to conceal the hazard. It is a matter of great concern that this week two reports for the United States’ Senate intelligence committee highlighted that Instagram played a much bigger role in Russian manipulation of US voters than the company has previously discussed, and was a more penetrating tool than hitherto acknowledged.

Although Russia’s trolling on Facebook received more attention in the mainstream press, more nefarious content was created on Instagram. Overall Instagram troll engagement exceeded that of Facebook. The researchers issued a clear warning: Instagram would be a key to Russian disinformation in future US elections. This is worrying as Instagram is attracting new users faster than Facebook’s platform and is on track to exceed 2 billion users within the next five years, about the size of Facebook today. Instagram’s audience is also younger than its parent, making it more attractive to advertisers. And unlike Facebook, Instagram is still growing in the US. Mr Zuckerberg likes to say that any firm which has grown at the speed of his was bound to make mistakes. Yet the problems of Instagram are hiding in plain sight. Instagram’s privacy settings are far from ideal. The network allows anonymous accounts; a user’s profile and all its content are either public or limited to approved followers. It’s open enough to invite harassment, but without the built-in protections to stop the abuse from suppurating. Even worse, a year ago Instagram moved from putting posts into a users’ home feed just from the accounts they followed to putting up posts based on those that have been liked by other accounts a user follows.

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Source: russia
Link : The Guardian view on Instagram’s troll farms: meme warfare | Editorial


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