Instagram Creators Express Frustration as Platform Begins Restricting Recommendations for Political Content

Instagram Creators Express Frustration as Platform Begins Restricting Recommendations for Political Content

Instagram creators who frequently post about news and politics are urging their followers to allow “political content” in their feeds after the platform began automatically limiting such posts.

The Meta-owned platform had announced in February that it would stop recommending accounts that share political content to users who don’t already follow them. The app typically suggests posts and accounts based on the type of content a user engages with most.

As changes began quietly taking effect in recent weeks, users began noticing that the new feature had been set to “Limit” by default. That setting excludes content that is “likely to mention governments, elections, or social topics that affect a group of people and/or society at large” from the platform’s discovery mechanisms. 

Some on the app expressed feeling blindsided that they were not directly notified of the setting change, only learning of it from other users.

Over the weekend, some creators started circulating instructions showing users how to manually toggle the option back by opening the “Settings and activity” menu at the top right corner of the app, navigating to “Content preferences” and finding the “Political content” tab. These settings also apply to the user’s Threads account.

“You can’t just essentially put a blindfold on people who may not realize it. A lot of people don’t even know that this is a thing that’s been applied to their preferences,” said Johanna Toruño, a street artist who frequently advocates for Palestinians on her Instagram account, where many of her more than 156,000 followers found through organic discovery. “It’s just so appalling to me to do something like this at such a political moment in our lives, not just internationally, but also within our country, with this being an election year.”

The move comes at a time when Instagram has emerged as a popular source of news and unfiltered updates around global and domestic political issues. A Pew Research Center study published in November found 16% of American adults regularly get their news from Instagram, which made up a bigger share of users’ news media diets than TikTok or X.

But ever since the launch of its text-based app Threads last year, Meta has made clear its intent to pivot away from promoting political content on its platforms.

Some creators circulated instructions showing users how to manually not “limit” political content by default.NBC News via Instagram

“This announcement expands on years of work on how we approach and treat political content based on what people have told us they wanted,” Dani Lever, a public affairs director at Meta, wrote in an email statement on Sunday. “And now, people are going to be able to control whether they would like to have these types of posts recommended to them.”

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, has also reiterated that he doesn’t see Instagram or Threads as spaces for politics and news. Meta’s platforms have come under fire in previous years for being a source of unreliable political content, especially as generative AI makes the risk of viral misinformation more acute than ever.

“Politics and hard news are important, I don’t want to imply otherwise,” Mosseri wrote in a Threads post in July. “But my take is, from a platform’s perspective, any incremental engagement or revenue they might drive is not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let’s be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.”

Political activists have previously accused Meta of potential bias against their content, and users grew particularly vocal about their suspicions in the months after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

After some celebrities and influencers accused the platform in October of “shadow banning,” or essentially censoring, their content in support of Palestinians, a Meta spokesperson released a statement about a global bug affecting the reach of Instagram stories that reshared reels and posts.

Around the same time, the company apologized for “inappropriate Arabic translations” that resulted in Instagram inaccurately adding “Palestinian terrorists” to the English translation of certain descriptors in users’ bios.

Later that month, Meta locked several large pro-Palestinian Instagram accounts, saying that its security staff had detected a possible hacking attempt.

Instagram’s latest app change is reminiscent of another feature the platform added in December, in which users automatically saw less fact-checked content in their feed unless they changed the setting. Its quiet rollout had provoked similar outrage, causing pro-Palestinian accounts to air suspicions that Instagram was censoring their content by default. (It’s not clear if pro-Palestinian posts are fact-checked more often than other posts.)

Samira Mohyeddin, a Canadian-based journalist, said that a few weeks ago, she began noticing that all the historians and political commentators that usually appeared in her Instagram recommendations were suddenly replaced with videos of cats and influencer couples. 

“As much as we like to pooh-pooh on social media and say it’s a cesspool and all this stuff, it’s still a vital source of news and information for a lot of people around the world,” said Mohyeddin, who shared her own post about how to change the setting. 

News influencer and attorney Katie Grossbard said she worries that Instagram’s new limits on political content will keep users from staying updated on issues related to the U.S. presidential election.

“What’s kind of complicated about this news is, what’s defined as political? Because I’m like, everything is political. Our lives are political,” Grossbard said. “This decision directly harms communities whose entire existence is political. And is there a difference between posting content about nonpartisan election dates, versus posting about a court case that impacts reproductive freedom versus posting a slideshow about trans history?”

But this ease of access to bite-size information has also made social media platforms prone to spreading unchecked disinformation. Ahead of the 2020 election, Meta (then Facebook) removed 50 Instagram accounts linked to a Russian-backed influence campaign. And now, with the rapidly advancing abilities of generative AI, deepfaked images and videos pose a growing risk of infiltrating the information ecosystem.

As attention spans get shorter, Grossbard said, many voters are increasingly turning to sharable Instagram infographics rather than taking the time to watch cable news or read a lengthy article.

“While we can all try to make it better and maybe get media literacy in schools, where we are right now is where we are right now,” she said. “I think especially in an election year, we have to meet people where they are so that they can feel educated and empowered and they want to engage.”

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