Anti-Radicalization & the Instagram Bubble

For maybe a year on and off, I’ve been engaging with Republicans (and other Trump supporters, but we must really make sure to call them all Republicans) on Instagram.

Today I created a new Instagram account for the specific purpose of trying to combat the social media radicalization of young conservatives in the United States. Anti-feminist, anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-Muslim, pro-white nationalist propaganda is abundant on Instagram. It is often trafficked by high schoolers. My goal is to change the course of their electoral trajectory before they vote for Republicans.

The Instagram app responds very rapidly to your search queries and post interactions. If you start looking for Trumpist propaganda, as I did (so I could comment on it), your search/recommended tab will feed you all the most ridiculous memes you could ever care to see. If you occasionally start to like liberal-leaning memes, as I did, you will see more liberal stuff in your recommendations. If you have a food thing, you will quickly discover fetishes you never knew existed.

Starting a new account was an opportunity to see what a query returned when Instagram has very little interaction data. What does their “pure” algorithm show you in a search when they don’t know your political preferences? I had already made a half dozen anti-Trump comments when I performed this search:

It gave me about half and half anti- and pro- Republican posts, plus Instagram’s usual, can’t get rid of it, always present booty pics and shit you just don’t understand. The results are nowhere near as extreme as what I get with my main personal account when I search for #Trump, after my year of interacting with extremism.

Which means these young Instagram conservatives can quickly fall into a seriously fucked up information bubble of meme propaganda.

Most online anti-radicalization efforts that I can find have been about fighting terrorism, but I think it’s equally applicable to what’s happening to our conservative white male youth right now on a range of issues. I’ll be writing about my exploration of and activism in this topic.

Since I can find few domestic programs doing what I’d like to do, I can start by seeing what others have done to fight religious radicalization. One of the first things on my reading list is this mammoth .pdf, the Prevent Strategy Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department by Command of Her Majesty. However, I suspect that will mostly be background, as I have my doubts that any government program will be quite savvy enough to be very effective with social media strategies of any kind.

Also very glad to be near this recent grant award for UNC-Chapel Hill to “fight extremist messaging, making it the recipient of the single biggest grant in a new Homeland Security program to shift the fight against radicalization to the local level.”