Meta Is Scaling Back Political Content

cape cod social media marketing firmby Brittany McSorley

Earlier this year, Instagram announced yet another big change. On February 9, a blog posted to the platform began with the comforting words, “We want Instagram and Threads to be a great experience for everyone.” Perfect! I also want that. Tell me more.

The blog continued:

“If you decide to follow accounts that post political content, we don’t want to get between you and their posts, but we also don’t want to proactively recommend political content from accounts you don’t follow. So we’re extending our existing approach to how we treat political content – we won’t proactively recommend content about politics on recommendation surfaces across Instagram and Threads.”

Hmm… okay. We’ll no longer come across political content in areas of Instagram including the Explore page, Reels, or the recommended posts or accounts that tend to pop up as we scroll. (Remember when Instagram was nothing more than a chronological feed of people’s lunches tinted into oblivion with that original filter pack? Simpler times, eh? We knew not what we had.) For those who don’t want a break from political content, “there will be a control for people to choose to see it.”

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, the news tab is going away. It was only launched in 2019, and Meta already pulled the plug on it in France, Germany, and the U.K. last year. Early this month, American and Australian users will say goodbye to it as well.

According to ABC News, “The change comes as Meta tries to scale back news and political content on its platforms following years of criticism about how it handles misinformation and whether it contributes to political polarization.”

(Political polarization?! Well, I never. What an unfounded accusation.)

So, news and politics will be taking a big step back on Instagram and Facebook. On Instagram, you’ll need to opt back in if you want to follow politics, and Facebook has basically opted all the way out for you. It’s interesting that these changes came in the form of sweeping changes to everyone’s experience of the platforms that individuals can undo if they want to, rather than just introducing the option to see less political and news content. Meta has made a big choice for us.

Like a lot of things on the internet, this seems like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, political misinformation has run so rampant on social media that one firm that harvested millions of users’ data may be responsible for two of the biggest political upsets in modern memory, the election of Donald Trump and the passing of the Brexit referendum. These tools are so powerful and so unregulated that if I think about them too much, I will get hives! On the other hand, 18% of American adults identify social media as the most common way they consume political and election news. Making that content harder to access doesn’t sound… great… for… democracy?

It will be interesting to see how scaling back political content will affect the upcoming presidential election. Hopefully this is a good faith move by Meta, a sincere attempt to do less damage than its platforms did in 2016 and 2020. But are being misinformed or underinformed really our only choices? Who benefits from a population like that? I can think of a few people.