“We want you to trust what you see on Instagram,” the company said in a blog post at the time. Facebook has come under heavy criticism for helping disseminate dangerous disinformation – for example during the US 2016 presidential campaign.
“Looks like Instagram x Facebook will start tagging false photos / digital art,” Harriman wrote on Facebook. “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.”
His observations were followed up by the PetaPixel website, and online news site The Next Web. The latter was told by Instagram that the system had worked as designed: the image had been flagged by Instagram’s AI, assessed by a fact-checker who “concluded it is, indeed, misleading”: it’s not what Death Valley National Park actually looks like.
TNW pointed out there are artists “whose entire careers revolve around image manipulation”, such as Danish photographer Asger Carlsen.
A few days later, Instagram informed TNW it had re-assessed its initial review and no longer labelled the image as false.
“Instagram will continue to fact-check similar images, though, so the issue is far from resolved,” TNW reported.
Since his initial post, and after it was picked up by PetaPixel, Harriman’s views have become more nuanced.
He pointed out the fact check had been triggered by a post that had shared the original image without permission or credit, rather than the artist themselves.
“It never triggered on the artist,” he said. “This is a good thing and should help stop a bit of the fear-mongering. It’s not censoring artists like everyone is now afraid of, it’s censoring hubs or people trying to pass off fake/Photoshop as real places… it’s going after the fact that people can’t go visit [these] rainbow coloured hills.”
The image had gone viral earlier in 2019, with people sharing the photo of “rainbow mountains in Death Valley”.
In April 2019 the News Mobile Fact Check Bureau debunked the meme by locating the original source of the Photoshopped image.
So perhaps Instagram was serving art’s highest purpose: as Keats wrote “beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know”.
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.