Instagram developing 'pop-up' message to crack down on vaccine misinformation

Instagram developing 'pop-up' message to crack down on vaccine misinformation

Instagram said it is taking further steps to crack down on the spread of medically inaccurate content by developing a "pop-up" that would appear on content containing vaccine-related misinformation.

An Instagram spokesperson told The Hill that the company has been working on a message that would appear when people search for vaccine misinformation, adding that the feature is still in the works. 

Details about what the pop-up will say were not immediately available, but it is likely the feature will be similar to other pop-ups the app already employs. In recent months, the photo-sharing platform has created features to provide resources and support to users searching for content related to opioids and self-harm.

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The new feature comes two months after Facebook, which owns Instagram, announced a plan to limit the circulation of anti-vaccine content on its platforms. The company at the time said Instagram would no longer promote posts spreading misinformation about the possible side effects of vaccines. 

Lawmakers and public health advocates have been turning up the heat on social media platforms to address the spread of anti-vaccine content, which has surged in popularity online. The rise of the anti-vaccine movement has contributed in part to the measles outbreak in the U.S.

There have been at least 764 cases of measles reported the country, more than double the total number of cases from last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak comes 19 years after measles was declared eradicated in the U.S.

Anti-vaccine content has continued to flourish on Instagram. The platform has been blocking hashtags that promote unambiguous misinformation — including "#vaccinescauseautism," "#vaccinesarepoison," and "#vaccinescauseaids." 

But much of the anti-vaccine community on the platform gathers in communities with less straightforward labels, such as "#vaccinetruth" and "#vaccinesuncovered." And they have continued to create groups with hashtags that sidestep the new content moderation system.

Instagram has said it is seeking to balance freedom of expression with the need to address the amplification of misinformation.

The platform is seeking to deal with the spread of general misinformation as well. The spokesperson said Instagram will soon begin reducing the reach of posts that have been debunked by fact-checkers.

Instagram currently uses image detection technology to identify and filter out content that has been debunked by Facebook's third-party fact-checking program. And it is expanding that program to include misinformation that originates on Instagram. 

Photos that are determined to be false will be filtered out from Instagram's recommendation system. 

The platform said it will roll out the program more broadly if they find it is effective. 

“Our approach to misinformation is the same as Facebook’s — when we find misinfo, rather than remove it, we’ll reduce its distribution,” Stephanie Otway, a spokeswoman for Instagram, told Poynter on Monday. “We can use image recognition technology to find the same piece of content on Instagram and take automatic action.” 

The changes come as all of the social media platforms seek to ramp up their content moderation tools to root out misinformation and conspiracy theories, which are often cultivated by extremist online communities.