Instagram To Review Its Policies, Algorithms For Any Bias Against Black Community

By 06/15/2020
Instagram To Review Its Policies, Algorithms For Any Bias Against Black Community

Instagram head Adam Mosseri revealed today that the company is reevaluating its policies and algorithms to “better support the Black community within our own organization, as well as on our platform.”

In an official blog post, Mosseri wrote that throughout the ongoing police brutality/Black Lives Matter protests, Instagram has seen a number of its users organizing to support the cause. But at the same time, he said, “we’re also hearing concern about whether we suppress Black voices and whether our products and policies treat everyone equally. The irony that we’re a platform that stands for elevating Black voices, but at the same time Black people are often harassed, afraid of being ‘shadowbanned,’ and disagree with many content takedowns, is not lost on me.”

To better understand these concerns and how to address them, Instagram will look at four key areas of its product to see if the Black community and other marginalized communities are disproportionately, negatively impacted, Mosseri wrote.

The four key areas are: harassment (both on and off Instagram), account verification, distribution/filtering of content (which includes shadowbanning), and potential bias in Instagram’s algorithm.

With harassment, Instagram will examine “potential gaps in how our products and policies protect people,” Mosseri said. As for verification, he confirmed it’s one of the top things users ask Instagram about, and now the platform is considering changing current verification criteria “to ensure it’s as inclusive as possible.” (Current criteria requires verified accounts to broadly be “authentic,” “unique,” “complete,” and “notable.”)

Mosseri addresses creators’ long-lived concerns about shadowbanning

Distribution is a big one. Instagram users have complained for years about allegedly being “shadowbanned”–aka, having the spread of their content surreptitiously restricted by the platform, without notice to them or anyone else. (In general, shadowbanning can result in live posts looking totally normal on the creator’s end, while their followers and other users might never be able to see the content.)

Mosseri has previously said that shadowbanning “is not a thing” on Instagram. Today, he said the company plans to “review how content is filtered on Explore and Hashtag pages” to see if there is bias against Black users’ content being boosted. “On top of that, we need to be clearer about how decisions are made when it comes to how people’s posts get distributed,” he wrote. He didn’t give explicit details, but said Instagram will release more information about content recommendation practices soon.

Last up, Instagram is checking its algorithms because it’s aware that “some technologies risk repeating the patterns developed by our biased societies,” Mosseri said. “While we do a lot of work to help prevent subconscious bias in our products, we need to take a harder look at the underlying systems we’ve built, and where we need to do more to keep bias out of these decisions.”

The platform will provide updates on its work in these four areas over the next few months, Mosseri said. He added that Instagram has previously used feedback from LGBTQ+ and body-positive users to make itself more inclusive to those communities.