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The Impact of Instagram’s Political Content Limitation on Public Opinion Trends

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
31st May 2024
The Impact of Instagram’s Political Content Limitation on Public Opinion Trends
This feature may limit Palestinian content during the Gaza war (Getty)

Instagram users are now encountering new restrictions on political content, imposed by Meta, the platform's parent company, as announced last February. The company stated that this measure aims to reduce the visibility of political content on the platform. The objective is to "enhance the user experience by minimizing engagement with potentially controversial or polarizing content, focusing instead on personal and social content rather than political content."

Meta has begun to gradually implement this feature on Instagram, aiming to decrease interactions with political content by reducing its visibility to users. It relies on algorithms to identify political content and limit its spread based on criteria related to both textual and visual elements.

The company clarified that the new feature will not recommend any political content from accounts that users do not follow on Instagram and Threads, but the restriction applies to all forms of content on both platforms. 

According to Meta, the political content in question includes "laws, elections, and social topics," although they did not provide further details on the specific content that would not be recommended.

At the same time, Meta emphasized that the feature will not block accounts that users follow but will not recommend these accounts to non-followers. Additionally, the feature is planned to be rolled out on Facebook at a later stage.

the political content in question includes "laws, elections, and social topics

Criticisms From Instagram Users

This feature has faced widespread criticism from users who oppose it, arguing that restricting access to political content affects freedom of expression and political participation. Critics believe this could influence public opinion on important issues worldwide by reducing the visibility and interaction with news and reports.

One of the main criticisms is that limiting access to political content undermines the fundamental role of social media platforms as spaces for users to express opinions, demonstrate solidarity on certain issues, and share their political ideas and aspirations. Critics are concerned that the platform's constrained accessibility to information and news about political matters could marginalize critical and opposing voices.

Political Content Restriction Feature and the Israeli War on Gaza

Meta's introduction of the feature aimed at limiting recommendations for political content happened to coincide with the ongoing Israeli war on the Gaza Strip. The ambiguity surrounding the intended scope of this content restriction raises concerns about potential new limitations on Palestinian-related content. This is particularly concerning given Instagram and Facebook's strict censorship policies regarding content related to the Israeli war on Gaza and expressions of solidarity with the Strip, often flagging such posts as "violating standards." Consequently, posts documenting Israeli crimes against Gaza residents frequently encounter suppression, restrictions, or removal, thus hindering solidarity initiatives and impeding the reach of facts to the world.

In this context, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media (7amleh) published a briefing paper on November 1, 2023, detailing the state of Palestinian digital rights since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza. The report documented around 627 violations on Meta platforms, including 344 instances of incitement to violence or hate speech and 283 cases of restriction and removal.

These violations are part of the censorship practices imposed by Meta to silence Palestinian voices while allowing the spread of incitement in Hebrew without restrictions, as reported by 7amleh.

Political Content Restriction Feature and the Israeli War on Gaza

Instagram's new feature exacerbates restrictions on Palestinian content, likely identifying it as content that should not be recommended to users.

Given that social media users heavily rely on digital platforms for information and news, reducing the visibility of political content on Instagram and Threads could significantly influence global public opinion, particularly in the context of the Israeli war on Gaza and other Arab and global events.

Content Creators Urge Meta To Revoke the Feature

On April 10, The Washington Post published a report featuring an open letter from content creators to Meta, urging the company to cancel the feature intended to limit political content. The creators expressed concern that this feature might limit their reach on Instagram and Threads. The signatories emphasized that the feature undermines the reach of the content they share online.

Content Creators Urge Meta To Revoke the Feature

Meta Platforms spokesperson Andy Stone told The Washington Post that the change is based on what the platforms' users have demanded. According to the newspaper, Meta officials have previously highlighted the need for Instagram and Threads to focus on topics other than politics.

The Feature of Limiting Political Content During an Electoral Year Worldwide

The activation of Meta's feature limiting recommendations for political content coincides with a year marked by presidential elections in various countries, including the United States, where elections are set to take place in November.

In this context, Axel Bruns, a professor at the Queensland University of Technology's Digital Research Centre, told ABC News that “the vagueness of political content provided by Instagram is "absolutely" concerning. Politics is difficult to define at the best of times once we move beyond just the functioning of parliaments and governments." Bruns pointed out that social media users who rely on platforms to find news rather than actively seeking it will be significantly affected by this feature. 

Bruns added that if people do not have a "shared basis of understanding what's currently going on", then they cannot engage in formal forms of politics like voting, to more everyday practices.

The Feature of Limiting Political Content During an Electoral Year Worldwide

Steps To Disable the Limit Political Content Feature

In conclusion, if you wish to disable Instagram's feature that restricts political content and limits its reach, follow these steps: Open your profile on Instagram, go to Settings, scroll down to Suggested Content, and then tap on the Political Content option. Toggle off the option to limit political content. By doing so, you will not be subjected to the restrictions imposed by the new feature.

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