Instagram Targets Photoshop - Is Digital Art at Risk?
In December 2019, the Facebook Group published information regarding the introduction of third-party fact checks across their platforms. The aim was to help 'Identify, remove and label false information' across Facebook and Instagram.
This article looks at how Instagram will implement these changes, why they are being put in place and how it could affect content publishing.
What Does 'Combating Misinformation' Mean?
Content that is deemed ‘false’ by third party fact-checkers will have reduced distribution, limited exposure and be complete with warnings.
Instagram removing “false content” from the explore page and from hashtag searches in an effort to reduce public exposure to misinformation. The content will also be universally ‘labelled’ - meaning all users will be granted maximum information as to why content may be misleading, regardless of their, or the original publishers, location.
Within the ‘labelled content’, links to both the external fact-checking rating system and further links to credible sources can debunk any claims made in the original post. Any identical content, either across Facebook or Instagram, will automatically be labelled.
These changes were initially implemented to stop misinformation influencing global political elections. The Facebook group have also made further steps to protect the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, the official Press Release regarding these measures can be found here.
How These Measures Affect Digital Art
In late 2019, digital publisher PetaPixel commented on the potential risk to photography in the wake of Facebook’s announcement: “This is an interesting development, and one we’re particularly interested in as photographers. Are all manipulated photos fair game, or only those that are used to spread misinformation? Given the use of third-party fact-checkers, it seems to be the latter; however, photographers who use heavy digital manipulation to create fantastical scenes may wind up the unwitting victims of this new system if enough viewers 'report' their images as fake.”
The central issue being, ‘false information’ can, and has, extended to imagery. This includes images that have been subjected to digital manipulation. Moreover, the update poses deeper questions around art’s role in relation to ‘the truth’ and whether digitally manipulated art is seen as ‘expressive’ or ‘false’.
Although views differ over how digital manipulation translates to false information, many careers have been skillfully built out and nurtured from this medium. Whalar Star, Ramzy Masri (@space.ram - also banner image), who has featured heavily within this conversation, has already had one piece censored due to his creative editing of an image.
Regarding Ramzy’s content, the censored piece contained a link to an external source within its ‘label’, NewsMobile, who commented; “A beautiful picture of mountains in California is going viral. What is different about the picture is that they appear to be in rainbow colours.”
Ramzy’s vibrant style is not a one-off piece of work. Glancing at their feed, there is a complete consistency of artistic style, coupled with a strong theme of distorted reality. It is not a stretch to say few would become confused when wondering if their work represented an entirely truthful version of reality...
Ramzy's vibrant mosaic of digital art offers their followers an insight into a mind of unmatched creativity and artistic cultural commentary.
The Wider Industry Reacts
San Francisco based photographer Toby Harriman has been extensively quoted on this subject. Regarding artists, his key commentary revolved around both intrigue and concern; “Interesting to see this and curious if it’s a bit too far. As much as I do love it to help better associate real vs Photoshop. I also have a huge respect for digital art and don’t want to have to click through barriers to see it.”
However, it is necessary to mention that Instagram are not targeting ‘Photoshop’ specifically, only ‘false information’. In a recent Hypebeast article, an Instagram spokesperson commented, “We don’t hide content because it’s photoshopped, we apply a label when a fact-checker has rated it. Upon review from the fact checker, they changed the rating, so it is no longer being labelled as false on Instagram and Facebook.”
Within the creative industries, few would believe photoshop or any other form of creative manipulation is ‘false information’ when looking at content from an artistic point of view. In light of this, I feel it is important to state that this is not a conversation about Photoshop’s use within body distortion around weight or other cosmetic alterations that attempt to mimic reality. I am discussing the digital artists who are not trying to trick their users into believing something is real or not. I am referencing the Creators who work to entertain and inspire awe using imagery that is clearly not real.
Highly creative digital art can take years to master and requires immense talent. It is also a medium we have become used to seeing within Whalar’s influencer marketing campaigns. Here are Whalar Creators, Shorty Nominated @the_life_of_aivax, Award-Winning Creators @teber and @alexandrialens doing what they do best.
On another note, the rising prominence of ‘DeepFake’ videos - a combination of AI and deep learning that can be used to swap in and impersonate public figures - have been flagged as a potential vehicle for misinformation. As of October 2019, the BBC reported that there were 14,698 deepfake videos online. It is worth clarifying that over 96% of these videos are not politically related. Facebook’s introduction of misinformation labelling has already been cited as a key mediator of deepfake’s potential to unsettle and manipulate information.
It is still very early stages, and actual images being flagged for artistic alterations - in comparison to the spreading of ‘information’ - have been scarce.
Facebook’s 'Fact Checker' is a system put in place to deal with the potentially harmful and external forces that can manipulate social media for personal, or political, gain. Ultimately, that is what Facebook are making efforts to stop - the spread of false content that instructs users incorrectly and dangerously.
Regarding artistic digital manipulation, the vast majority of digital artists on social media aim to entertain and empower. Artists like Ramzy do incredible amazing work in the LGBTQ+ community, and use their art as a profound means of personal expression.
Although some Creators may be briefly caught in this cross-fire, the long term aim of Facebook has never been to suppress art. And as their system becomes more refined, artists will find safety in knowing that their creativity, in the purest form, will never be directly targeted.