Instagram quietly rolled out a misinformation feature that’s sparked claims of stealth censorship

A feature meant to give Instagram users control over how Meta’s fact-checking process affects their feeds is sparking backlash and speculation after the company rolled it out quietly with little explanation.

In an update Tuesday to a blog post originally published in July, Meta said Instagram had recently added new user controls to its “Fact-Checked Control program.”

“The Fact-Checked Control allows you to choose how fact-checked content that we usually reduce, appears in your feed from accounts you follow,” the company says on its help page. “This control is automatically set to the default (Reduce), which is the same level of fact-checked content we’ve previously shown from accounts you follow. You can change this setting at any time to see more or less fact-checked content.”

In addition to the default option of “reduce,” which may move fact-checked posts lower in a user’s feed, other options users can opt in to are “reduce more,” which may further lower the posts, and “don’t reduce.”

A spokesperson for Meta emphasized that the default settings for the feature were already being applied on Instagram for years, and that the feature is providing more options to users on what content they see.

It’s not clear when Instagram added the feature. Meta introduced the options to Facebook in May, and The Washington Post reported in July that the features were not present on Instagram. 

But in the last three days, users began noticing the feature on the app and posting about it. At least a dozen posts have circulated from pro-Palestinian accounts and other groups accusing Instagram of censoring their content by default and instructing users on how to turn off the fact-checked control setting. Some of the posts have brought in tens of thousands of likes.

One Instagram post with 38,000 likes shows a phone with a Palestinian flag and text reading “Instagram just added new settings to censor pro-Palestine content. Here is how to change your settings.” The post then instructed users to click the “don’t reduce option” on the fact-checked control page.

Instagram has been under particular scrutiny — most notably from pro-Palestinian activists — in recent months for how it handles posts about the Israel-Hamas war. Some Palestinian journalists have flourished on the platform, but that has done little to quell concerns and allegations that pro-Palestine voices have been stifled.

Meta has struggled to react to numerous and sometimes conflicting demands around misinformation on its platforms over the years, and the product rollout appears to be an attempt to give users more control over how the company is influencing their feeds. 

On Tuesday, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a post that the company was planning to extend its fact-checking program to Threads, Meta’s X competitor, next year. 

Currently, Meta’s fact-checkers do not have the ability to rate content that has been created on Threads. 

Meta uses independent fact-checkers to review and rate posts, remove content that violates its policies and reduce the distribution of content that is rated false, a program that started in 2016 on Facebook and expanded to Instagram in 2019. The company says it works with more than 90 fact-checking organizations in more than 60 languages.

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