Instagram is enabling far-right news outlet One America News Network’s misinformation machine by hosting its hateful content and personalities on the platform, even though OAN’s posts often appear to violate Meta’s community guidelines.
After being dumped by various cable providers, OAN is relying now more than ever on social media to spread its far-right propaganda. Notably, OAN is utilizing Reels, Meta’s attempt to compete with TikTok, to expand its reach by tapping into Instagram’s recommendation algorithm and its prioritization of video content. As with content on TikTok, these short videos can be used by nefarious actors to pull new viewers down far-right rabbit holes of transphobia and misinformation. By strategically using new features, such as Reels, that widely disseminate content to the feeds of unsuspecting users, OAN continues to spread misinformation and hate on Instagram — even to those who aren’t seeking it out.
OAN’s official Instagram frequently posts transphobic content that seemingly violates Meta’s community guidelines. One example is a video of far-right commentator Will Witt calling LGBTQ people “groomers and pedophiles'' for allowing children at a Pride parade in Los Angeles. Meta has previously confirmed to the Daily Dot that baselessly calling LGBTQ people “groomers” violates its community guidelines against hate speech.
OAN host Alison Steinberg, who openly notes in her profile that she’s been banned from Instagram four times (ban evasion is also a violation of Meta’s rules), regularly posts transphobic commentary that seemingly violates Meta’s community guidelines, which directly prohibit referring to any transgender person as “it.” Multiple videos of Steinberg using that and other derogatory language in OAN segments continue to circulate on the platform, including clips containing anti-trans slurs -- another likely violation.
Although Meta promises to “remove misinformation primarily about vaccines when public health authorities conclude that the information is false and likely to directly contribute to imminent vaccine refusals,” it allows OAN to regularly and egregiously push such misinformation. In fact, Instagram currently hosts numerous videos from OAN’s account that describe the COVID-19 vaccine as dangerous. In one video on Instagram, OAN host Pearson Sharp seemingly violated Meta’s guidelines multiple times, saying that boosters “could kill you,” that “you have a better chance of not getting sick if you’re not vaccinated,” that “children don’t need protection from this virus to begin with,” and finally that the Pfizer vaccine “becomes part of you bodies genetic code.”
The fact that this content is still available on Instagram’s platform is even more alarming when considering the reach of this misinformation. For example, a recent OAN video endorsing the debunked use of the anti-parasitic medication ivermectin to treat COVID-19 has been tagged with a warning but it is still accessible to view and share, reaching 200,000 views in less than two weeks.
OAN has also peddled dangerous far-right conspiracy theories on Instagram: Steinberg promoted the disproven “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which is not only objectively false, but inspired a real-life attack when an armed man fired an AR-15 inside of the D.C. restaurant in 2016.
In her clips posted to OAN’s Instagram account, Steinberg often asks viewers to share her videos to “combat big tech censorship.” By encouraging engagement on posts containing anti-LGBTQ bigotry and dangerous misinformation, Steinberg is feeding into the platform’s algorithm that will likely expose more people to OAN’s violative content.
In failing to enforce its community guidelines, Instagram is allowing OAN and its influencers to harass marginalized communities and spread misinformation. As midterms approach, it’s even more essential that Instagram crack down on those who peddle in election misinformation, of which OAN is a notorious super spreader. Allowing OAN and its influencers to remain on Instagram is not just dangerous to users, but to democracy.
Update (9/14/22): The language in this piece has been updated to remove slurs against trans people that were quoted from OAN's Instagram posts.