In 2016, an Instagram account called @army_of_jesus_ posted an image of the son of God, imploring viewers to “like if you believe” or “keep scrolling if you don’t”. It received almost 88,000 likes. The account, as revealed later by security researchers, was run by Russian internet trolls. While much attention has been paid to attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election on Facebook and Twitter, the role of the image-based social media platform has been largely overlooked. In fact, according to two recent reports, Instagram became the platform of choice for Russia’s infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA).
Thanks to accounts like @army_of_jesus_, the IRA garnered higher engagement on Instagram than it did on Facebook across the posts that were studied in one of the reports. For example, troll posts received 183,246,348 likes on Instagram, compared to 37,627,085 on Facebook (although some of that could be fake traffic).
Australia is home to an estimated 9 million active Instagram accounts each month and our own 2019 federal election is approaching. Are we ready for a similar type of memetic warfare?
After the “Facebook election” of 2016, observers fear Australia is still “quite naïve” about the ways social media may be manipulated to mislead and influence the national conversation.