During the height of Israeli-Palestinian violence that took place last month, several Facebook employees alleged that the company’s algorithm on both the parent platform and Instagram were inadvertently censoring pro-Palestinian content because of the method by which it was shared.
Instagram says that it has addressed this issue in a patch to its algorithm.
In a detailed report from BuzzFeed News, multiple employees complained that pro-Palestinian content was not viewable for a multitude of users during the conflict in Gaza. The group of employees contended that Instagram’s automatic moderation system was censoring photos and stories because it was not properly weighing the importance of reposted or reshared content. While the employees did not believe this was a deliberate action, it did have the side effect of mainly affecting marginalized groups.
“It truly feels like an uphill battle trying to get the company at large to acknowledge and put in real effort instead of empty platitudes into addressing the real grievances of Arab and Muslim communities,” one employee wrote in an internal group at Facebook, as reported by Buzzfeed.
“This is extremely important content to have on our platform and we have the impact that comes from social media showcasing the on-the-ground reality to the rest of the world,” another member wrote to the internal group. “People all over the world are depending on us to be their lens into what is going on around the world.”
Many people thought we were removing their content because of what they posted or what hashtag they used, but this bug wasn’t related to the content itself, but rather a widespread issue that has now been fixed.
— Adam Mosseri 😷 (@mosseri) May 7, 2021
In response, the company confirmed to The Verge that its previous practice of typically surfacing original content in its stories before reposting it would be replaced by a system that would give equal weight to both. This response was not just a reaction to concerns in the Gaza conflict, but a company representative told the tech publication that it would address a concern that Instagram was suppressing certain points of view or topics in its attempts to circulate posts and stories that it believed its users cared about most.
Instagram says that the reason the algorithm worked the way that it used to was that it had received feedback from users in the past that they cared more about original stories from close friends than they did about seeing reshared content. However, there has been a recent increase in how many people are resharing posts and the company has seen a larger impact than expected to them.
Instagram says that it wanted it to be clear that the company wasn’t trying to suppress certain points of view and that the issue was a problem with how any post that was re-shared in stories was being treated. While the company hopes its adjustments to the algorithm help in the near term, it also believes that the average user still wants to see more original stories than reposted content and as a result, Instagram is still looking at how to correctly address this need without the side effect of appearing to censor situations like the Gaza conflict.
“Stories that reshare feed posts aren’t getting the reach people expect them to, and that’s not a good experience,” the Instagram spokesperson said.