Instagram to Change Stories Algorithm After Staff Raised Concerns About Reach of Pro-Palestinian Content

Instagram to Change Stories Algorithm After Staff Raised Concerns About Reach of Pro-Palestinian Content
Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP, Getty Images

Instagram is making a change to its algorithm after employees raised concerns over the reach of pro-Palestinian content in light of the recent deadly confrontation between Israel and Palestine.

A Financial Times report published on Sunday states that the change will affect original and reposted content in Instagram’s Stories section, which is displayed at the top of the app. The outlet affirmed that until now, Instagram had favoured original stories over stories that reshare posts from the user’s feed or someone else’s feed. Going forward, Instagram will rank original and re-shared posts on the same level.

The move comes after a group of as many as 50 employees inside Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, expressed their concerns about pro-Palestinian content being suppressed, the outlet said. Buzzfeed News reported that this group had begun filing internal appeals to restore content on Facebook and Instagram they believed had been improperly blocked or removed.

An Instagram spokesperson told the FT that more users had been sharing posts about the recent conflict in Gaza. However, the app’s current setup had a “bigger impact than expected” on how many people had seen the posts, according to the outlet.

“Stories that reshare feed posts aren’t getting the reach people expect them to, and that’s not a good experience,” the Instagram spokesperson told the FT. “Over time, we’ll move to give equal weighting to re-shared posts as we do originally-produced stories.”

Gizmodo reached out to Instagram on Monday for a comment on the planned change but did not receive a response by the time of publication. We’ll make sure to update this blog if we hear back.

Despite Instagram’s acknowledgment of the impact of its previous ranking, the social media company told the FT that the change in its algorithm “was not wholly” in response to the problems over pro-Palestinian content, and that it has been under consideration for some time. Instagram also reiterated that the ranking wasn’t meant to suppress “stories about particular topics or points of view.”

“We want to be really clear — this isn’t the case. This applied to any post that’s re-shared in stories, no matter what it’s about,” the spokesperson said.

This isn’t the first time Instagram has made mistakes regarding content on its platform related to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In May, Instagram deleted posts and blocked hashtags related to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in the Islamic faith, because its content moderation system erroneously associated it with violence and terrorist organisations.

The same month, Instagram also came under fire for deleting posts about the possible eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. In this case, the social media network said it was also due to a technical error.

Overall, actions in Facebook’s social media empire have drawn criticism from its own employees, some of which have gone so far as to say that the company “is losing trust among Arab users.” It’s also come under fire from data rights organisations, which allege the company is discriminating against certain groups.

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told Buzzfeed News in an interview that Facebook knew there had been several issues that impacted people’s ability to share on its apps, but that it had fixed them. He added that the problems should have never occurred and that the company was sorry for people who felt they couldn’t bring attention to certain events or felt their voices were being suppressed.

“This was never our intention — nor do we ever want to silence a particular community or point of view,” Stone said.