Instagram reveals algorithm change after Palestine censorship claims

The social media platform will now give equal treatment to reshared and original posts, a spokesperson has said

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, will now give re-shared content on its platform equal treatment to original Stories. AFP
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, will now give re-shared content on its platform equal treatment to original Stories. AFP

Instagram is changing the way content will be displayed amid accusations the social media platform censored pro-Palestinian messages during recent violence between Israel and Gaza.

The app prioritises original content shared in Stories over posts reshared from other people. Now, however, it will give both equal treatment, a representative said on Sunday, as reported by the BBC.

We're looking at other ways to focus stories on original content through things like new creative tools

Instagram spokesperson

The current set-up has had a "bigger impact than expected" on the number of people who see content, but this new move is supposed to help posts on breaking news reach a wider audience, the company has said.

This comes amid accusations that Instagram had been suppressing pro-Palestinian posts during 11 days of violence between militant group Hamas and the Israeli military in which almost 300 people were killed.

Information about the eviction of Palestinians from an East Jerusalem neighbourhood was systematically removed from social media in May, said digital researchers who have collected evidence of the content takedowns.

Hundreds of posts and accounts documenting events in Sheikh Jarrah were deleted or restricted, the researchers said.

In May, Instagram blamed a “technical bug” for the deletions, and apologised to users who were unable to “bring attention to incredibly important issues”.

Now it's saying its policy of favouring original content is what actually caused the issue, as many pro-Palestinian messages were reposts, and that this was an unintended side effect rather than any attempt to censor opinion.

Employees within Facebook, which owns Instagram, even accused the company of bias against Arabs and Muslims amid the violence, according to a report from Buzzfeed News. The Financial Times also reported that up to 50 employees had raised concerns about claims of suppressing pro-Palestinian content.

A company spokesperson said the reasons behind the policy that prioritises original posts are that most users often have too many Stories to follow, and it believes they are "more interested" in original content from "their closest friends".

"It's also caused people to believe we were suppressing stories about particular topics or points of view. We want to be really clear – this isn't the case," she said.

"This applied to any post that's reshared in stories, no matter what it's about."

With a rise in how many people reshare posts, particularly to raise awareness of timely topics amid breaking news, the platform has acknowledged not giving this type of content equal treatment is not "getting the reach people expect them to" and that it is "not a good experience".

It is an issue that has been brewing for some time, however, and is not wholly about the Palestine controversy, it said.

While this move is something the company has said it's taking seriously, it is a shift that will happen over some time, rather than overnight.

"We still think people want to see more original stories, so we're looking at other ways to focus stories on original content through things like new creative tools," the company said.

Updated: June 1, 2021 01:41 PM

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