What’s scarier than racists and Russian trolls on Instagram? Why, ‘Russian-influenced racist trolls,’ of course!
The 2020 US election is just around the corner and social media is crawling with wrongthink, according to the Daily Beast. This time, it’s not Russian trolls - it’s worse. The Russian trolls’ ideas have infected so-called “American neo-confederates” and created an unholy hybrid of racist Russian trolls who are unstoppable by the usual mass-deplatforming solutions used to wipe out entire nests of foreign-origin trolls. It’s almost like they’re…real people.
The Beast partnered up with the NATO-backed Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) - not exactly a bastion of neutral, level-headed reporting - to comb through the darker reaches of Instagram, where the platform has stubbornly refused to remove accounts that aren’t violating its terms of service even as they “run some of the same racist crap” as the Internet Research Agency troll accounts of yore.
The offending memes include the Peanuts cartoon character Linus van Pelt sporting a t-shirt that reads “THE SOUTH” and hugging a Confederate flag as his blanket. A speech bubble that appears to be coming from the blanket says “Our Battle Flag Protecting Us From Tyranny Since 1861.” Another meme shows the Confederate flag with a coiled snake, the caption “Don’t tread on me,” and another caption “HERITAGE NOT HATE.” Won’t someone think of the children?!?
The memes chosen to illustrate this supposedly virulent Russian-tainted racism are a bit underwhelming given the language used to describe them by the Beast. The name of the account - South United - was used by the IRA in one of the campaigns that ran concurrently to the 2016 election, though its theme - “racist, bigoted appeals to the Confederacy” according to the DFRL - had less to do with directly supporting a candidate than the evergreen “sowing discord.”
The recycling of the memes under similarly-named accounts seems to be what infuriates the DFRL the most - because Instagram is treating the accounts like they are real people. This, to the people who haven’t stopped screaming that Russian trolls stole the election since 2016, means all their efforts have been for naught. Linus van Pelt with his Confederate flag blankie is poised to hand Donald Trump a second term in the White House.
Facebook’s head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher could only shrug, pointing out that the accounts have not violated any of Facebook or Instagram’s policies and that they seem to be “authentically American.” The best he could do to soothe the Atlantic Council’s impotent rage was to explain that “it appears that these accounts belong to real people in the United States whose content was likely mimicked by these operations we removed in the past.”Also on rt.com Media clutches its pearls over ‘white power’ hand gesture at Army v Navy football game… but was it really there?
In other words, it’s impossible for them to tell which came first - the scary American “racists,” or the scary “Russian trolls” sowing discord by posing as American “racists.” But a super-scary chicken-egg hybrid is sure to keep people up at night!
Meanwhile, Instagram has expanded its AI thought-policing algorithm, which warns users when they’re about to say something that could potentially be perceived as offensive. The feature, which previously only monitored comments, has been expanded to include photo and video captions after Instagram bragged that initial trials had showed promise in quashing online bullying.
The platform shared a screenshot of a hypothetical message a user might receive if they attempted to post an “offensive” caption: “This caption looks similar to others that have been reported.” Perhaps the next feature in the pipeline will warn users when their posts too closely resemble something posted by “Russian trolls” in the past.
Like this story? Share it with a friend!