Meta announced on Friday it would stop proactively recommending political content on Instagram or its upstart text-based app Threads, alarming news and politics-focused creators and journalists gearing up for a crucial election year.
While users will still be allowed to follow accounts that post about political and social issues, accounts posting such content will not be recommended and content posted by nonpolitical accounts that is political in nature or includes social commentary also won’t be recommended, Meta said.
The company said it also won’t show users posts focused on laws, elections or social issues from accounts those users don’t follow.
“This announcement expands on years of work on how we approach and treat political content based on what people have told us they wanted,” said Meta spokesperson Dani Lever.
Meta said users will still be able to see politics-related posts in their main feeds from accounts they follow. But the new approach means users are less likely to see politics-oriented content or accounts on Instagram’s “Explore” page, its short-form video product known as Reels, and the suggested-users-to-follow box. Meta also won’t be recommending politics to users’ feeds on Threads. Meta said it plans to develop tools to allow users to opt in to seeing more political content, but those tools are not available.
Keith Edwards, a Democratic political strategist and content creator, said he’s met with the White House twice recently and urged officials there to join Threads, but now he regrets the effort he put into the platform.
“The whole value-add for social media, for political people, is that you can reach normal people who might not otherwise hear a message that they need to hear, like, abortion is on the ballot in Florida, or voting is happening today,” he said. “There’s TV ads, but who watches TV anymore? Most people are on their phones, and Meta apps are where most people hang out.”
The change outraged some news and political creators, many of whom turned to Instagram’s Threads app after having their X accounts affected by Elon Musk, who removed their blue verified check marks and banned some progressive activists and journalists from the site.
Meta launched Threads last summer as an alternative to X. The service quickly grew by allowing users to easily import and follow their social connections from Instagram, and it has been adopted by many high-profile journalists, celebrities and content creators.
In recent years, Meta has increasingly backed away from surfacing news and politics to users as the social media giant has faced criticism for how it polices misinformation, contentious ideas and extremism. Shortly after Meta launched Threads, Instagram head Adam Mosseri posted that the company would not “encourage” politics and “hard news” on the platform. He said the increases in engaged readership from such promotion was “not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let’s be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.”
Sari Beth Rosenberg, a podcaster in New York, said that after feeling like she couldn’t connect with her audience on Twitter after Musk took over, she moved to Threads. “As much as I was hesitant about Meta now controlling Threads, I was giving it a chance. … But what they’re doing is penalizing and restricting very crucial conversations around politics at the most crucial election of our time.”
Rosenberg said she’s used her platform to educate people about public health and the coronavirus pandemic, but given Meta’s changes, she’s now concerned that if she mentions those topics she’ll have her reach restricted.
Ena Da, a content creator in Brooklyn, said that Meta’s policy was extremely vague, and the phrasing around social issues concerns her. “Some people’s entire existence and their perspectives are going to be deemed political,” she said, “like me as a Black woman. This is going to silence a lot of marginalized people.”
Isaias Hernandez, a Gen Z content creator who posts on environmentalism, said that the change could lead to voters being less educated during a major election. “Climate policy is a huge factor for a lot of young people voting,” he said. “I think we’re going to lose a large chunk of voters if we’re not able to put climate information out there.”
Edwards, the political strategist, said the changes are likely to have political consequences. “[Meta] is trying to turn the world apolitical, which only helps authoritarian movements, at a time when authoritarian movements are on the rise in Western democracies,” he said.
The changes are likely to have less impact on conservative creators, said Emily Amick, who is followed by 133,000 accounts on Instagram. Many large right-wing content creators are expert at evading restrictions by not posting overtly about politics, she said.
“There’s a lot of money behind right wing influencers, it’s a really robust ecosystem that’s made to succeed on today’s internet, and these changes will only help them further,” she said. She said she’s already seen her view count on posts drop when she speaks about politically charged topics such as abortion and guns.
“The right has really effectively developed content that maximizes the aesthetics of visual-based social media,” she said, “especially through trad wife influencers. They create content that does not appear to be expressly political, though it has profound political implications.” “Trad wife” is short for “traditional wife” and refers to influencers who create content about homemaking and often weave conservative messages into their content.
Ashton Pittman, news editor at the Mississippi Free Press, an online nonprofit based in Jackson, Miss., said the changes also might negatively affect his publication. Pittman said he relies on social media recommendations to grow the outlet’s readership. “If you don’t get local news, democracy suffers,” he said. “If social media corporations are hiding local [political] news from you, you’re going to be less informed, and the place you live in is going to be worse off.”
Professional accounts on Instagram who have recently posted political content can check their eligibility to be recommended under Account Status, Meta said. From there, they can edit or remove any recent political posts or appeal the company’s decision to restrict their account and content from recommendations.
On Friday, Mosseri said that when restricting content, “we’re not talking about all of news, but rather more focused on political news or social commentary.”
“The thing that’s scary about it, is, what is political?” said Edwards. “Bud Light was not political until it was. The green M&M was not political until Tucker Carlson made it political.”
“If I post about LGBTQ rights, or about being a gay man, is that political?” asked Pittman, the Mississippi editor. “If I post about Taylor Swift, is that political because bad actors are making everything political? Everything is political if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s just about who’s defining what’s political and who gets to define that and what does it mean?”