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Instagram’s new policy claims to put people before politics, but does it really? 

Graphic by Audrey Garcia

Instagram announced its new approach to political content on the app in a blog post last Friday.  

The social media app’s parent company, Meta, said it would no longer recommend political content to users who do not proactively follow political accounts. The policy extends to other Meta apps including Threads and, eventually, Facebook. 

While Meta has attempted to crack down on pervasive polarizing political content on their platforms, the company failed to outline practical measures to do so. However, following the implementation of this policy, both Threads and Instagram will allow users to opt-in or out of politics on their feed through a settings option. 

The algorithm will no longer recommend suggested accounts, reels or explore page posts related to elections, laws or controversial social topics. 

Whether people consider themselves political pundits or not, it seems like sensationalist media is unavoidable from the moment you open up the app. Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff links this phenomenon to a broader concept coined “surveillance capitalism.” 

In her 2019 book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Zuboff debunks the myth that social media is free. She argues that because social media platforms earn most of their revenue through advertisers, the viewers’ attention has become a commodity, and the goal is to get users to spend as much time as possible on the app. And what better way to attract your attention than with controversial political takes? 

The 2020 documentary “The Social Dilemma” highlights that from clicks, comments and reshares, political content empirically increases engagement by evoking strong feelings of support or dissent on social topics. And as you navigate arguments online, advertisers are able to sneak in ads. 

For years, companies have been able to capitalize off of inciting disagreement – profit achieved through polarity. Instagram’s new policy is an unprecedented attempt to stop it. 

However, while Meta’s new policy may seem to be revolutionary, the thought of a company allowing users to isolate themselves from politics is treacherous when considering the global context. 

Polarization is not a new phenomenon, and Instagram and similar companies could have implemented such policies at the height of political fragmentation during the Trump administration’s campaign. But instead, Instagram has conveniently become a political silo during a flood of pro-Palestinian, pro-choice and leftist content online. 

The vagueness of the phrase “social topics” when asked to outline what constitutes political content suggests something as divisive as Israel’s occupation of Gaza or the queer rights movement could be blacklisted from the explore pages of those who opt into the app’s new option. But because users “choose” not to see this content, Instagram is absolved of censorship accusations. 

This wouldn’t be the first time social media platforms stifle activist voices. Sam Biddle, a writer for “The Intercept,” reported in a February article that Meta is considering censorship of the word “zionist” in tandem with this new policy. By limiting users’ expression of discontent, Instagram is able to disguise their censorship campaign as a polarization crackdown. 

We may never know Meta’s true intentions, but for better or worse, this policy will surely revolutionize the way you scroll.

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