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Hate speech finds a home on Instagram

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The aftermath of a national emergency follows a now-familiar pattern. Various bad actors race to fill
 
October 30 · Issue #237 · View online
The Interface
The aftermath of a national emergency follows a now-familiar pattern. Various bad actors race to fill social platforms with misinformation and outright hate speech. Reporters perform simple searches for conspiracy theories and offensive keywords, and write up stories documenting what they find. Platforms belatedly issue contrite statements, saying there is no place for this kind of thing on their platforms, all evidence to the contrary.
Lather, rinse, retweet.
In the wake of last week’s domestic terror attacks, though, a new vector for bile has emerged. More than ever before, journalists are finding vast swaths of hate speech on Instagram. Yesterday, I mentioned this story from the New York Times that found nearly 12,000 posts with the hashtag “#jewsdid911,” suggesting Jews are responsible for the events of September 11th.
Today, other outlets dived in.
In The Daily Beast, Will Sommer examines how right-wing personalities who were considered too noxious for even Twitter have been granted refuge on Instagram, including Alex Jones, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, the right-wing comedian Owen Benjamin, and Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos caused a stir last week when he lamented in an Instagram post that the mail bombs sent to Democratic leaders did not go off — a post that the company initially decided to leave up before reversing course after a public outcry.
Meanwhile, Taylor Lorenz spoke with Kate Friedman Siegel, who found Instagram unresponsive when she reported anti-Semitic direct messages last month. Siegel, whose handle is “crazyjewishmom,” has more than 800,000 flowers.
Siegel shared screenshots of two anti-Semitic memes she had received via Instagram direct message in September, both of which the platform failed to take action on. One featured an oven with the phrase Jewish stroller plastered on top. The other was a Dr. Seuss parody book cover titled “Horton Hears a Jew,” by “Dr. Goebbels.” […]
Siegel has received anti-Semitic messages since she started the account. But recently, they’ve reached a fever pitch. Siegel said she’s been tagged in memes that depict Adolf Hitler doing the Nazi salute, people desecrating the Israeli flag, people Photoshopping her as Anne Frank, people joking about putting her into a gas chamber, and worse. She reports the ones she sees to Instagram, but she gets so many notifications that there’s no easy way for her to keep track of which reports Instagram has taken action on and which it hasn’t.
It’s tempting to note here that the apparent surge in harassment comes just weeks after Instagram’s cofounders quit, marking the end of the service’s pseudo-independence. But the mechanics that enable harassment and hate speech long predate their exit. I wrote last week about some of the ways Instagram enables bigots to self-organize:
The right wing adopted the hashtag #Soros to share many of these memes, and Instagram helpfully organized the most-engaged posts algorithmically. It auto-populated suggested searches for anyone who began to search for Soros: “soros caravan,” “soros bomb,” “soros jew,” all of which could lead users to further misinformation.
Instagram search results also auto-populated with a bunch of obviously fake Soros accounts, although many of them appear to have been taken down overnight.
That’s at least three big problems for Adam Mosseri and his team to consider: should we provide platforms for people that Facebook has banned, and why? Are we making adequate investments in content moderation? And how do the unique mechanics of our platform enable bad actors to organize and spread hate speech?
As recently as August, Instagram was written about as an oasis — the last refuge for people interested in some good old fashioned social networking. Events of the past several weeks suggest that time has come to an end. We should now expect hate speech to proliferate on Instagram just as everywhere else.
And when the next calamity arrives, Instagram can bet that journalists will be looking.

Democracy
We posed as 100 senators to run ads on Facebook. Facebook approved all of them.
Democrats Are Spending 3 Times As Much on Facebook Ads as Republicans
Trump vs. the media: how Trump makes the press into opposition
Twitter Just Launched A Midterms Page And It’s Already Surfacing Trolls And False, Hyperpartisan News
Here’s How Much Bots Drive Conversation During News Events | WIRED
Fighting fake information is a societal challenge: Chris Daniels, WhatsApp
Elsewhere
Facebook’s growth continues to slow down
Facebook plans facility in Redmond, Wash., near Microsoft
What social media can do to stop hate
Twitter explains why the switch to 280 characters was a good idea
Vox.com’s Carlos Maza has a valuable look at “asymmetric polarization” — what happened when Republicans began breaking democratic norms, exposing media outlets’ commitment to bothsidesism.
Admit it. Republicans have broken politics.
Launches
James Patterson’s next novel will be released on Facebook Messenger
Takes
I Thought the Web Would Stop Hate, Not Spread It
And finally ...
This little girl walked around with her head on a plate for Halloween
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and honestly probably just cute photos of your kids in their Halloween costumes, it would bring me joy during this bleak weak: casey@theverge.com.
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