Backlash forces Instagram to reverse flag on heavily-edited image

Instagram REVERSES decision to censor artistically-edited image of California’s Death Valley as fake

  • Instagram has reversed a decision to restrict an altered picture on its platform
  • The image depicted California’s Death Valley in rainbow colors  
  • The platform was observed flagging two pictures that were heavily edited
  • An image had been previously labeled as ‘fake’ by a fact-checker
  • Instagram cites ‘community feedback’ as the impetus for reversal

Instagram is walking back its decision to restrict a digitally altered picture that third-party fact-checkers labeled as ‘fake’ after backlash.

The image in question was a popular edit of a photo taken in California’s Death Valley that was originally captured by a photographer named Christopher Hainey and altered by Ramzy Masri.

Instead of depicting the National Park’s actual beige rolling hills, the image was doctored to make the geography appear rainbow.

Instagram filtered out an image (pictured above) that had been digitally altered after it’s algorithm detected that it had been flagged by fact-checkers. Now the platform reversed the flag after ‘feedback from the community’

In a statement following the removal of the image, Instagram said it fact-checked the fact-checkers and has decided to reinstate 

‘Upon feedback from the community, NewsMobile [an Instagram fact-checking partner] reviewed the fact-check and have changed their rating,’ an Instagram spokesperson told The Daily Beast.

‘Now that the fact-check is removed, it’s no longer being labelled on Instagram as false.’ 

According to an initial report from PetaPixel, an algorithm introduced by Instagram in December which is designed to mitigate the spread of fake images, was the culprit behind flagging the image.

Photographer Toby Harriman was the first to document the phenomenon and noticed noticed the image had been restricted for ‘false information.’

Interesting seeing this pop up for the first time when scrolling the main Instagram feed. Looks like Instagram x…

After clicking through a warning label to view the underlying content, Harriman noticed that the walled-off content wasn’t propaganda, but photograph which has been edited to depict a rainbow of multi-color hills. 

As reported by The Verge, the photo in question had been flagged by a fact-checking website as false causing Instagram’s algorithm to kick in, meaning it wasn’t the fact that the image was doctored, but that it had been reported to a fact-check that caused the restriction. 

Critics of Instagram’s decision to block the image worried what the implications were on digital artists who use tools like Photoshop to manipulate pictures.

For instance, if an artist’s photo is shared on the platform enough times, it’s possible for the image to spiral beyond the creator’s control, increasing the chance it will be reported as fake. 

In the event that an image is flagged as fake, Instagram’s restrictions all but kill the chance that it will be viewed by others on the platform.

Another image (pictured) was also flagged by Instagram for being flagged as ‘fake’ by fact-checkers

In addition to being hidden behind an extra screen that requires users to click-thru to see the image, it is also then removed from Instagram’s trending content and explore page. 

Instagram initially said it stood by the decision to filter out the content, telling The Verge: ‘We will treat this content the same way we treat all misinformation on Instagram.

‘If third-party fact-checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram’s recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages.’

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