Brands: Navigate disinformation successfully on Instagram
Many brands see Instagram as a force of good and regularly rely on the platform to promote products, engage customers and generate more buzz for their brands. But there’s also a darker side to Instagram: amongst other things, it exacerbates the spread of inaccurate and inflammatory information and encourages the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation.
How can misinformation and disinformation harm brands and damage reputation? And, as a communicator, what can you do to crack down on disinformation? In this blog post, we answer all that and more.
Misinformation vs disinformation: What’s the difference?
Misinformation and disinformation both fall under the category of fake news, but they’re innately different. In a nutshell: whether a piece of fake news counts as misinformation or disinformation boils down to intent.
To be specific, misinformation refers to false information that’s disseminated via individuals who are unaware that said information is inaccurate. Disinformation, on the other hand, refers to deliberate attempts of spreading incorrect and potentially malicious information. This includes hoaxes, angler phishing and propaganda.
Disinformation on Instagram vs Facebook
Fake news has been a big issue for Facebook in the recent years, but according to a study by Stanford and New York University, Facebook user interaction with known fake news sites has declined by 50% since the 2016 US election.
How exactly is Facebook dealing with disinformation and fake news? They’re working with 43 fact-checking organisations from across the globe; these groups use a tool built by Facebook to sift through content that is flagged as potentially false or misleading. After the fact-checkers research the claims, they produce an “explanatory article” and if the content is deemed misleading or false, the post is shown less prominently as a result.
Interestingly, however, Facebook implemented a payment cap to limit the number of explanatory articles each fact-checking agency can get paid for at the start of 2019. In an interview with BBC, several fact-checkers have also mentioned that they’re not sure if their work is making an impact or if Facebook is prioritising cracking down on disinformation.
At some point in time, it seemed as though Facebook was ridden with disinformation and fake news; in comparison, Instagram was a “safe haven” where disinformation was much less likely to make it onto your newsfeed. That said, today, disinformation is also rampant on Instagram – in some cases, malicious actors even prefer Instagram over Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Facebook (which is Instagram’s parent company) has published a statement saying that it would work on “tackling” the problem of disinformation on Instagram and it also went on to say that it would not show or recommend content that contained disinformation on Instagram Explore or hashtag pages.
However, many have pointed out that Facebook was simply paying lip service. In the context of the vaccination misinformation case, for example, false information about vaccines is still searchable and easily accessible on Instagram.
Examples of disinformation on Instagram
There are many examples of disinformation on Instagram; these range from relatively straightforward cases of counterfeit ads to carefully orchestrated disinformation campaigns that aim to influence the political landscape.
Russia meddling in the US elections
One of the most notorious instances of disinformation on Instagram involves the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm which famously meddled in the US elections.
As researchers from Columbia University noted, Instagram drove 187 million interactions from IRA’s content between 2015 and 2018. During that same period of time, Facebook and Twitter only drove 77 million and 73 million interactions for the IRA respectively.
Fake counterfeit ads
Companies selling counterfeit or bootleg products are now taking to running ads on Instagram and misleading consumers into thinking they’re getting original products for a fraction of the price. For instance, ads promoting fake Yeezys and other popular sneaker brands are now commonly found on Instagram.
Trolls on Instagram
Finally, Instagram is rife with trolls who post inappropriate comments on a brand’s social media posts. These may or may not include false, inaccurate and inflammatory information about a brand’s products or services.
Instagram’s measures against disinformation
Just last year, Instagram announced that it would be adding three new tools to prevent the spread of misinformation on its platform.
First and foremost, there’s the “About this Account” feature, which allows users to uncover information about accounts with large followings. This information includes:
- The date the account was created on Instagram
- The country where the account is located
- Accounts with shared followers
- Any ads the account is running.
Secondly, Instagram is now verifying accounts with badges that are similar to the blue checkmark used by Twitter.
Last but not least, Instagram is also allowing people to log in using third-party authenticator apps in order to add an extra layer of security.
How can brands protect themselves against disinformation?
To protect themselves against disinformation, brands can maintain an active presence on Instagram and other social media channels and engage in social listening and media monitoring. The goal is to be alerted in real-time about any untruths or inaccurate information that’s being spread about your brand. This way, you’ll be able to respond immediately and curb the spread of disinformation.
Brands who want to go one step further in protecting themselves against disinformation can also consider using technology to make their business processes more transparent. For instance, startup Bext360 is using blockchain technology to provide traceability to commodities. Amongst other things, it’s partnering with Coda Coffee and Great Lakes Coffee to allow consumers to trace the origin of every bean they purchase.
How can communicators manage disinformation on Instagram?
Say you notice that someone’s running Instagram ads for counterfeit products but misleading consumers by using your brand logo and images on these ads. What do you do?
First, report the ad and account to Instagram and get them to take action against the account. Once you’ve done that, consider filing a trademark or copyright violation claim as well. Most importantly of all, reach out to your consumers via all possible mediums (social media, website, newsletter, etc) to inform them of the disinformation and warn them against it.
In doing this, there’s no need to link to the account spreading disinformation; you wouldn’t want to give them more attention than absolutely necessary. Simply draw to your consumers’ attention that your brand isn’t affiliated with this company and leave it at that.
A final word on disinformation on Instagram
Like all other social media platforms, Instagram exacerbates the spread of disinformation and polarises its users. Bearing this in mind, the responsibility first and foremost is with communicators to do all they can to protect their companies and brands against disinformation. If you haven’t already done so, start engaging in media monitoring and social listening and take things from there.