Though Russian election-meddling received the most attention when it came to Facebook and Twitter (including speculation that new, more advanced Twitter chatbots could mark a new chapter in cyber-propaganda), recent reports from the US Senate Intelligence Committee has revealed that Russian propaganda on Instagram may have had a much bigger impact than anyone expected, even though Facebook claimed in November that the platform was mostly missed by the Russians.
According to the reports, the Russian organization known as the Internet Research Agency (or IRA) attempted to interfere in the 2016 US presidential elections by posting anti-Clinton propaganda on various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Upon reviewing the IRA’s activities, however, the three organizations that were put in charge of the report (including Columbia University) discovered that the propaganda posted on Instagram received vastly more interactions than its counterparts on Facebook and Twitter: in total, propaganda posts on Facebook and Twitter produced 77 and 73 million interactions respectively, while the posts on Instagram produced more than both of those platforms combined—187 million.
According to the text of the report, “Although the Facebook operation received more attention in the mainstream press, more content was created on Instagram, and overall Instagram engagement exceeded that of Facebook.” In fact, some of the Russian-run accounts were able to gain up to 300,000 followers, with a large chunk of the others (around 40%) garnering up to 10,000. Despite Facebook assuring Congress that Instagram’s structure (which lacks a “Share” feature) prevented propaganda content from reaching larger audiences, the new report proves that isn’t the case.
As digital influencers, deepfakes, and photorealistic, AI-generated imagesbecome more ubiquitous, separating reality from digital deception may become just another part of the media landscape. You can read more about the reports finding’s here and here.