Meta cuts political content on Reels but users say “Don’t babysit us”

Meta has announced changes in how it shares political content by excluding it from Reels and Explore on Instagram and not recommending it on Threads.

“Our goal is to preserve the ability for people to choose to interact with political content while respecting each person’s appetite for it,” wrote Meta’s head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, on Threads.

According to him, if users follow political accounts, the company won’t stand in between the user and the content. However, the company will not “proactively amplify” content from the accounts that users don’t follow. Updates in the algorithms will take place in the coming weeks.

Political content is going to be excluded from Explore, Reels, and Suggested Users across Instagram and Threads. “If you want political recommendations, you will have a control to opt into getting them,” says Mosseri.

Post by @mosseri
View on Threads

Mosseri’s announcement was followed by thousands of angry comments from Threads users, with many calling it “plain stupid” and demanding the right to decide on their own what content they can see. “That’s what block, hide, and mute are for. We’re not children,” wrote a user named monkeytennis70.

The first problem that users named was the unclear definition of “political content.” “This is disturbingly unspecific. What constitutes “posting political content”? Posting solely about politics? Occasionally? Have opinions about our democracy? About issues? About elections?, wrote a Thread user named therealhoarse.

“Bad call. Almost every aspect of life worth discussion will be “political” in one sense or another,” attorney Ryan Stygar wrote in a thread.

Post by @monkeytennis70
View on Threads

Some users even said that the push to reduce the reach of political content was a repression of free speech.

There were speculations about whether accounts talking about political issues would receive less organic traffic, and if being deliberately hidden by social media platforms is equal to silencing them. Some believe that an opt-out option instead of an announced opt-in would be fairer.

Others posed rhetorical questions such as: if individuals have no desire to interact with political content, shouldn't Meta’s algorithm organically remove such content from users' feeds without a deliberate intervention?

“It's called censorship, even though you're a private company. I thought you were concerned about "disinformation," not legitimate, factual reporting or statements. I'm a grown-up. I can make my own decisions to block or follow somebody,” said Thread user Dell Kirsten.

“Why pick politics? What about climate misinformation, misogyny, what about racism, sexism? Do you prefer them to political debate?” asked environmentalist Jill Belch.

Manipulating the narratives

Big tech companies, including Meta, have received criticism from human rights organizations for selectively censoring content on social media platforms that have a real-life impact.

According to Human Rights Watch, Meta has been systematically censoring critical Palestinian voices, including content creators, journalists, and activists reporting from the ground in Gaza. On the other hand, Meta lacked classifiers for automatically identifying and removing hate speech in Hebrew until September 2023.

Facebook also received criticism for its role in Myanmar’s genocide of the Rohingya, as the platform did not act on the hate brewing in the Facebook groups that led to real-life violence.

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