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What We Learned This Week: Has Instagram Gone Too Far By Hiding Photoshopped Images?

By David Schonauer   Friday January 24, 2020


Facebook has taken flack for spreading fake news.

And last December Facebook-owned Instagram announced that it was doing something about the problem by rolling out a fact-checking feature that flags “fake” photos. But some photographers think the feature goes too far in its quest for truth because it labels some digitally-manipulated art as false information. Photos deemed “fake” are also removed from Explore and Hashtag pages and automatically flagged in future posts.

“Instagram is hiding faked images, and it could hurt digital artists,” warned The Verge.

PetaPixel talked with San Francisco-based photographer Toby Harriman, was scrolling through his main Instagram feed earlier this month when he saw the “False Information” warning pop up for the first time. “After clicking through the overlay hiding the post, Harriman found that it was simply a photo of a man standing on rainbow-colored mountains,” noted PP.

“Looks like Instagram x Facebook will start tagging false photos/digital art,” Harriman wrote at Facebook.

The story is a bit more complicated: “The photo, first taken by photographer Christopher Hainey and digitally altered by artist Ramzy Masri, does have a history of going viral with misinformation attached to it,” added The Verge. “The false information warning links to an article from fact-checking website NewsMobile, which debunks the numerous Instagram posts that shared the photo as “Death Valley National Park.”

Instagram says its fact-checking system uses “a combination of feedback from our community and technology” to identify which photos to pass onto third-party independent fact-checkers. If those fact-checkers determine that a photo is fake, it’s hidden behind a warning message before anyone can view it.

Hypebeast quoted a Facebook spokesman, who noted that that photos on Instagram are “not hidden because they’re photoshopped, but rather have a label once upon the rating of a fact-checker.”

“Artists and photographers shouldn’t panic about the feature flagging their digitally manipulated work since it isn’t targeting all Photoshopped photos — just the ones that have been identified by fact-checking websites as false,” concluded The Verge, which added, however, that "though the feature may be useful for combating the spread of misinformation, it does have the potential to be an obstacle for digital artists who want their work to be seen.”

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:
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1. National Archives Apologizes for Altering Image with Anti-Trump Signs

"We made a mistake." That mea culpa, posted to Twitter on Saturday by the National Archives, came after revelations that it had made multiple alterations to a photo of the 2017 Women's March in D.C. The photo, we noted on Monday, was part of an exhibition marking the centennial of the right of women to vote. The Archives, an independent government agency charged with preserving governmental and historical records, admitted altering the picture by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama by blurring signs held by marchers that were critical of President Donald Trump.


2. Charlotte Schmitz Collaborates with Sex Workers for "La Puente"

Photographer Charlotte Schmitz found a new way to portray it the world’s oldest profession. Schmitz's project "La Puente," the winner of the 2019 FotoEvidence W Award, is now a book that brings together photographs made in a brothel in Ecuador where more than 150 women work. We featured it on Tuesday. The dazzling Polaroid images were made in collaboration with the sex workers, who chose how to pose and how to embellish the pictures using nail varnish. The work, noted the British Journal of Photography, "is an antidote to both the stereotypical and sympathetic visual narratives that surround what is probably the most stigmatized line of work."


3. Ocean Art Photography Contest Winners

Photographer Greg Lecoeur has been named the overall winner of the eighth annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition for his image of a crab-eater seal maneuvering under Antarctic ice (at top). Organized by Underwater Photography Guide, the contest awards over $85,000 in prizes to its winners. This year’s contest included 16 categories, two of which — Conservation and Blackwater Diving (or night diving) — were new. Another new award, "Rising Star Photographer," went to Jules Casey for a photo of six juvenile seahorses (above).


4. Andy Warhol Through the Lens

Photography was Andy Warhol’s secret weapon, declared The New York Times in a report about a comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s photographs at New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery (through Feb.15). Warhol brought his camera with him everywhere he went — first a Polaroid, and then his treasured 35-millimeter compact Minox, noted The Times, adding that Warhol created a new visual language from a photographic vocabulary. AnOther said the exhibition shows a “different side” to Warhol’s photography.


5. Holocaust Survivors, Photographed by 250 Photographers, for "Lonka Project"

"It was daunting." So said photographer Jim Hollander, speaking about the Lonka Project, which he spearheaded along with photographer Rina Castelnuovo. Throughout 2019, some 250 professional photographers in 24 countries contributed their time and talent to the project, each capturing a Holocaust survivor or groups of survivors in contexts that, notes Hollander, make "a unique and memorable statement about their lives." An exhibition of the work, we noted, will open on Jan. 27 at the United Nations in New York, as part of the UN's 2020 Holocaust Remembrance event.

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