Instagram’s shift away from political content raises questions about what counts as ‘political’

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun5,2024

Instagram’s recent decision to move the platform away from political content has sparked concerns among content creators and advocacy groups over which issues will be included.

The social media site began rolling out changes last month, following through on previously announced plans to stop recommending political content across Instagram and Threads.

Unless users change their settings, they will no longer see political content on various “recommendation surfaces,” such Explore, Reels. In-Feed Recommendations and Suggested Users.

According to Instagram parent company Meta, this includes content that is likely to be about topics related to government or elections, such as posts about laws, elections or social topics.

Shoshana Weissmann, digital director and policy fellow at R Street Institute, suggested that Instagram will likely “run into some weird lines” as it attempts to delineate political and nonpolitical content on the platform.

“There’s some stuff that’s explicit, like a campaign, people running for office,” she said. “But there’s so much in between.”

“I think it’s going to be a bit of a weird time for creators who aren’t sure how close you have to get to politics for it to be considered politics by the algorithm,” Weismann added.

In an open letter to Instagram chief Adam Mosseri, more than 200 creators urged the platform to reverse course and require users to manually opt out of political content instead, criticizing Meta’s definition as “vague.”

“This undermines the reach of marginalized folks speaking to their own lived experience on Meta’s platforms and undermines the reach of advocacy work in important areas that have become ‘social topics’ including climate change, gun violence prevention, racial justice, transgender rights, and reproductive freedom to name just a few,” the letter reads.

GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group that organized the open letter from creators alongside Accountable Tech, called the decision to include social topics as part of political content an “appalling move.”

“LGBTQ people’s lives are simply that, our lives,” a GLAAD spokesperson said. “Our lives are not ‘political content’ or political fodder. This is a dangerous move that not only suppresses LGBTQ voices, but decimates opportunities for LGBTQ people to connect with each other, and allies, as our content will be excluded from the algorithm.”

Ky Polanco, co-founder and co-executive director of Feminist, an Instagram community serving women, girls and gender expansive people, also expressed frustration over the possibility that reproductive health issues might be considered political.

“Our lives shouldn’t be considered political, and I think our right to reproductive health and information is not really political,” Polanco told The Hill. “It’s literally just a human right.”

What content is impacted by Instagram’s new approach will likely depend on what keywords the platform chooses to filter for, said Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor and expert on social media.

“What is the list of keywords that you are filtering for politically? Is the word LGBT a political word? Is Roe a political word?” Grygiel said, referencing Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision establishing the right to abortion that was overturned in 2022.

These decisions by Instagram could potentially influence billions of people, Grygiel noted.

“It really just kind of speaks to the level of power that they have over the media consumption of not just Americans but people globally, you know, anyone who can have access to these platforms,” they added.

Instagram’s new approach to political content comes as part of longer-term shift away from politics across Meta platforms.

Facebook first began efforts to reduce political content in early 2021 and “spent the last few years refining our approach,” Meta said in February, after announcing its decision to extend this approach to Instagram.

“This expands on years of work on how we approach and treat political content based on what people have told us they wanted,” Meta spokesperson Ryan Daniels said in a statement to The Hill.

“And now, people are going to be able to control whether they would like to have these types of posts recommended to them,” he added.

Weissmann suggested that Meta’s recent shift away from political content may have been informed by increasing scrutiny over how its platforms promote certain content.

“I’m sure a real piece of this is the regulatory side, that Facebook’s been hit for having algorithms that promote extremist content or even just very political content,” Weissmann told The Hill. 

“People will spend a lot of ad money, but being hauled into Congress over and over again is also a real cost,” she added.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Instagram’s shift away from political content raises questions about what counts as ‘political’”
  1. Will this new policy affect how advocacy groups can share their messages on Instagram going forward?

    1. Hi EmmaSmith82, it’s definitely a valid concern. Advocacy groups may need to navigate more carefully when sharing their messages on Instagram now. It will be interesting to see how this shift will impact the visibility and reach of their content moving forward.

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