- Instagram took down a video posted by news outlet ProPublica, saying it was in violation of its rules. The video identified members of a white supremacist group.
- The takedown sparked immediate criticism of how the Facebook-owned app polices content, and highlights how social networks often struggle with how to deal with newsworthy content that touches on sensitive or political topics.
- ProPublica’s editor-in-chief told Business Insider: “A platform that censors journalism because it cannot distinguish between racist rants and investigative reporting clearly needs to review its procedures.”
Instagram deleted a video shared on the social network by non-profit news outlet ProPublica, saying the footage violates its terms of service. The video identified members of a white violent supremacist group.
The video shared what it said was the real names, locations, and criminal histories of a group called RAM. Its takedown highlights how tech platforms can struggle with how to handle newsworthy content on its platform, and has sparked immediate condemnation of how Instagram, and its parent company Facebook, moderate photos and videos.
“A platform that censors journalism because it cannot distinguish between racist rants and investigative reporting clearly needs to review its procedures. This is absurd,” ProPublica editor-in-chief Steve Engelberg tells Business Insider. Instagram did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
The video was originally shared to Instagram in October 2017, but Instagram only took action against it on Thursday, telling ProPublica that it violated its “Community Guidelines.”
After this story was published, Instagram reinstated the video, telling ProPublica the takedown was a “mistake.”
Lucas Waldron, an employee at ProPublica, shared a screenshot of the original takedown message on Twitter on Thursday, adding: “Today @instagram decided to delete a @ProPublica post from Oct. 2017 that used footage from violent protests to identify members of a white supremacist group. The company provided no information on how to appeal and the post is now completely scrubbed from our account.”
Today @instagram decided to delete a @ProPublica post from Oct. 2017 that used footage from violent protests to identify members of a white supremacist group. The company provided no information on how to appeal and the post is now completely scrubbed from our account. pic.twitter.com/L9LGQarGpZ
— Lucas Waldron (@lhwaldron) June 21, 2018
So what’s in the video? Along with footage and information about the alleged group members, it shows some footage of violence at a far-right protest, and there are some instances of profanity. One man on the video says he is “a big fan of the fourteen” – a reference to the “Fourteen Words,” a notorious white supremacist slogan.
It’s not clear which of Instagram’s rules the video had allegedly violated prior to its reinstatement.
One possibility is that the video was deemed to have broken Instagram’s rules against sharing people’s personal information in some circumstances: “We remove content that … targets private individuals to degrade or shame them, [and] personal information meant to blackmail or harass someone,” according to Instagram’s terms of service.
The other possibility is that is that a moderator decided it violated Instagram’s rules around hate speech, which say “it’s never OK to encourage violence or attack anyone based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, disabilities, or diseases.” However, the terms also say: “When hate speech is being shared to challenge it or to raise awareness, we may allow it.”
Either way, Instagram’s move drew ire from critics, even as it sparked new debates over the role of free speech on social media.
Ali Winston, a fellow at media organisation The Investigative Fund, commented on Twitter: “Dear [Facebook] – you’ll happily act as an organising platform for Fascists – but god forbid we report on such groups and identify members who commit felonies.”
“Social media companies deciding that ‘doxxing’ [sharing personal information] is bad when it’s used against fascists, and not four years ago when it was used by the fascists to gain power, is about as predictably disgusting as it gets,” wrote GamesBeat editor Rowan Kaiser.
“Just so we are clear, Facebook owns Instagram. The same lack of transparency and incoherent rules governing speech apply,”wrote Daniel Kreiss, an associate professor at UNC School of Media and Journalism.
Facebook has been repeatedly criticised over its content moderation policies over the years and its failure to account for newsworthy content. In one notable incident in 2016, it blocked a legendary, Pullitzer-prize winning photo of a young girl during the Vietnam War, resulting in the temporary censorship of the prime minister of Norway.
Earlier in 2018, it officially published its full community standards for the first time in an attempt to shed more light on how it makes content moderation decisions.
Instagram’s actions come just days after another incident between ProPublica and Facebook. On June 15, ProPublica published a story revealing how Facebook’s new pro-transparency advertising rules were blocking some legitimate news outlets from paying to promote news stories about politics, while some clear political advertisements are slipping through the cracks.
Here’s the full ProPublica video on YouTube:
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