Facebook-owned Instagram has tweaked its algorithm after being accused that pro-Palestinian content was not viewable for users during the conflict in Gaza. Instagram typically surfaces original content in its stories before reposted content, but will now begin to give equal weighting to both, the company confirmed to the media.
As reported by BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times, the change reportedly happened after an Instagram employee group had made numerous appeals about content that had been censored by Instagram’s automated moderation, such as posts about the al-Asqa mosque being mistakenly removed. The employees didn’t believe the censorship was deliberate, according to FT, but one said that “moderating at scale is biased against any marginalized groups.”
The change is not only in response to concerns over pro-Palestinian content, a Facebook spokesperson said in an email to The Verge, but the company realized the way the app functioned— bubbling up posts that it believes its users care about most— led people to believe it was suppressing certain points of view or topics. “We want to be really clear— this isn’t the case,” the spokesperson said. “This applied to any post that’s re-shared in stories, no matter what it’s about.”
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have been criticized over the past several weeks about how they have surfaced — or not surfaced—content around the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Earlier this month Twitter restricted the account of a Palestinian writer, which it later said was done “in error.” And Instagram ended up apologizing after many accounts were unable to post Palestine-related content for several hours on May 6th, a move that head of Instagram Adam Mosseri tweeted was due to a “technical bug.”
Last week, pro-Palestine activists hit Facebook with a coordinated campaign where they have been successful in pushing down the app review rating of the social networking platform on both Apple and Google app stores. The average star rating for the social network was down from over 4 out of 5 to 2.3 out of 5 on Apple’s App Store and 2.4 out of 5 on Google Play after receiving thousands of one-star reviews.
Instagram says it has repeatedly heard from users who say they are more interested in original stories from close friends than they are in seeing people who reshare others’ photos and posts. That’s why it prioritized original stories, the spokesperson said. “But there’s been an increase— not just now but in the past as well — in how many people are resharing posts, and we’ve seen a bigger impact than expected on the reach of these posts,” the spokesperson said. “Stories that reshare feed posts aren’t getting the reach people expect them to, and that’s not a good experience.”
The spokesperson added that Instagram still believes users want to see more original stories, so is looking at how to focus stories on original content through new tools.