Facebook and Instagram have finally had enough bad PR from those wackaloons and has outright banned a host of bad actors. It’s a start. However, it doesn’t affect the structural problems in social media algorithms — they’re built around simple-minded mechanisms that don’t consider the quality of the content, but rely on who is linking to who, and counting the number of references as an indication of popularity. It’s an extravagant version of a sneaky online poll. So you still get fed bad information, even if they retroactively cut out the original source of the lies.
Simply by following Instagram’s suggestions, Russell was recommended 240 Instagram pages posting misinformation. Looking at one QAnon page resulted in suggestions for 12 more. Liking and engaging with even borderline-extremist content on the platform results in recommendations for more extreme content. Just last week, Instagram recommended that I follow Yiannopoulos and Jones after I liked and followed many right-wing meme pages. Russell also noted that more than 30 white-nationalist pages flagged to Facebook and Instagram last month are still up. “One would think that Instagram would bother to halfway try to clean this stuff up,” he tweeted, “but it’s all still there.”
Banning these extremist figures is a step toward stricter moderation of extremist views, but time and again, we’ve seen that the internet’s worst actors always find new ways to exploit platforms. For instance, after Instagram promised to ban anti-vaccine hashtags such as #vaccinescauseautism, anti-vaxxers simply developed new hashtags by changing a letter or adding a word.
The one good thing about cutting off these phonies at the knees is that it makes it far more difficult for them to directly profit from their lies — the lies still get out there, but InfoWars, for instance, has just lost a big chunk of advertising revenue, which we can hope will reduce their effectiveness at poisoning the discourse. It might also discourage the next guy with a get-rich-quick scheme based on selling conspiracy theories.