Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Round-up on compliance issues with online platforms: Instagram

This is the third in a series of six posts on compliance issues with various online platforms.  The first post was about YouTube.  Last week’s post was about Facebook.  Today’s post, the third in the series, will discuss Instagram.  Next week’s post will focus on Twitter.  On April 5, the fifth post in the series will cover Snapchat.  The sixth and last post in the series, on April 12, will be about Reddit.

The photo and video sharing and social media service Instagram was created in 2010 and has been owned by Facebook since 2012. Instagram has evolved massively in popularity, adding users exponentially year after year, and creating features which have inspired huge engagement and imitation on other platforms to take advantage of popular usage of the app, such as thematic hashtags and aesthetically curated content.

In addition to the social media and content sharing aspects of the service, there is a purposeful design intention behind Instagram to create and cultivate a community. For more on the design ethics intentions behind Instagram, and how those compliance considerations have manifested with mixed success or engagement in their values in the community that has emerged on the platform, check out this post.

Alongside the trends set by Instagram, the company has also been no stranger to controversy and criticism. Divisive policy and interface changes, abusive or fraudulent content, and claims of censorship or other inappropriate community management actions, have all drawn negative attention to Instagram.

  • One popular feature on Instagram was the user-created GIFs that can be added to Stories.  Earlier this month, this feature was temporarily disabled with little explanation from the company.  It turns out that the reason why the GIFs were removed was because a user had uploaded an offensive, racist sticker to the GIF library.  The GIFs were all supposed to be PG-rated, as Instagram can be used by anyone 13 years of age or older.  The outrage from many users is directed not only at the individual who uploaded the offensive GIF but also at Instagram content moderation, for not identifying the GIF before it became public as well as not reacting with proper transparency to the outcry:  Why Can’t I Get GIFs on Instagram & Snapchat   
  • Instagram has also been dealing with widespread problems with Russian operatives spreading disinformation and propaganda during the 2016 US presidential election, like many other social media platforms that are now under regulatory and legal scrutiny for their actions or inactions.  Instagram’s response to the controversy on their own service has been to take down posts in compliance with requests from Russian regulators, sparking opposition to this perceived censorship:  Instagram, After Spreading Russian Propaganda, Censors Evidence of Kremlin Corruption     
  • Influencer marketing and sales based on advertising as content provided by a network of popular bloggers and social media personalities is a popular practice which gives rise to many potential conflicts of interest and a variety of ethical issues.  For more on regulatory and compliance challenges inherent to the popularization of influencer marketing, check out this post.  Instagram has been a popular venue for these posts from influencers, and it appears that these advertising practices will only grow in prevalence on the site over time:  Instagram influencer posts doubled in 2017  
  • Instagram has been the forum for the #MeToo discussion in the advertising agency world, where an anonymously-run account that provides information sourced from a collective of individuals about misconduct and abuse in the industry:  Ad Agencies’ Reckoning on Sexual Harassment Comes on Instagram, Anonymously 
  • Social responsibility regarding informed consent, offensive content, and culturally inappropriate practices on the app where selfies dominate is a keen challenge.  User-created content which seeks to improve awareness and re-frame sharing practices co-exists alongside the problematic and ethically-challenged photos and text about which it aims to instruct:  Woman’s Instagram Post About Kenyan Child Ignites Fury  

Check back next Thursday for the fourth post in this series, which will be about current compliance and ethics issues with Twitter.

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