Instagram begins flying flags over fake photos

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new policy at Instagram flagging fake photos
Heavily altered photos on Instagram are now being policed.
Screenshot: mixsociety/Instagram

Instagram users are starting to see blurred-out posts the platform’s fact-checkers have flagged as potential fakes.

The popular photosharing app now owned by Facebook announced last month it was ramping up efforts to combat false information in photographs.

The fake photo flag is the latest in a series of measures as Instagram evolves into a safer site for its users. It is too early to tell just how effective fact-checkers will be in rooting out misinformation campaigns by bad actors, especially countries trying to influence the outcome of elections.

But what of the artists and photographers who heavily treat and even manipulate photos as part of their brand? The feature may prove problematic for digital artists.

One post, featured this morning on the photography website PetaPixel, raised a few eyebrows. The picture from the account @mixsociety shows a man standing on a rainbow-colored mountain ridge. Cleary, the photo is not real but anyone seeing this would understand the colors add an illustrative intent.

photo flagged as fake by Instagram
According to Instagram fact-checkers, this place does not exist.
Screenshot: mixsociety/Instagram

Other pictures, however, on the feed that are clearly altered did not receive the same warning. One is an aerial photo of a wooded area doctored to look like the face of a bear. It was posted the day before the rainbow mountain post.

fake photo not flagged by instagram
This photo posted the day before the one above, got past Instagram’s fact-checkers.
Screenshot: mixsociety/Instagram

Photographer Toby Harriman posted his observations of the rainbow photo being singled out on his Facebook page.

“Interesting to see this and curious if it’s a bit too far,” he wrote. “As much as I do love it to help better associate real vs. photoshopped, I also have a huge respect for digital art and don’t want to have to click through the barriers to see it.”

The comment thread raised spirited points and suggestions on how the feature could be modified.

Several were in support of calling out all that is fake, while others suggested that users who identify themselves as digital artists shouldn’t have to receive a fact checker’s scarlet letter.

“This is going to kill memes,” Vian Makarov wrote, to which Harriman responded, “thank gawd!!”

“Personally, I like it,” Scott Ricks wrote. “The problem is that a lot of digital creators hold themselves out as ‘photographers.’ “

“Ouch!” wrote Russell Preston Brown. “They will find me soon. I admit it, I am a digital artist. I like that title.”