Over the past week, Meta (formerly Facebook) has rolled out new changes across social media platforms Instagram and Threads. The update changes users’ default settings to reduce the amount of political content users are exposed to. Instagram users must now specifically opt in to see political content by changing their settings features.  

In early February, the parent company of Instagram and Threads announced it would be “extending [the] existing approach to how…political content [is treated]”. This means the apps will not “proactively recommend political content from accounts [user’s] don’t follow.”

While the company has argued that this new change allows greater choice for its users, experts have raised concerns that Meta is attempting to curb accusations of political bias and misinformation. 

The changes will not block political content from accounts users already follow, however it will impact content on the Explore page, Reels, the In-Feed recommendations and suggested accounts, which are some of the app’s most prominent features.

Under its definition, political content on Instagram are those “likely to mention governments, elections, or special topics that affect a group of people and/or society at large.” The company has not  issued further explanations of the definition.

Given the broad parameters of  this definition, what is deemed political content will ultimately be at the discretion of Meta.

The company defines social issues as “sensitive topics that are heavily debated [or those which] may influence the outcome of an election or result in/relate to existing proposed legislation”, across all it’s platforms.  The company also provides lists of “top-level social issues” across countries. The lists, however, do not detail specific examples of social issues.

The changes will likely limit the outreach of marginalised identity groups, who are often more reliant on exposure and engagement through social media to form communities and share information impacting them, rather than through mainstream media channels. The change will also affect youth activism, and smaller media organisations. 

Triple A, a non-for profit multimedia organisation which hosts the Indigenous radio city, Triple A Murri Country Radio, took to their Instagram to write, “As First Nations people, our lives are inherently political and therefore any content that we as Triple A share may be classified as political content and hidden from your feeds.” The organisation subsequently provided instructions on how to change the default feature. 

The “How we access news” report published in 2024 by the Australian  Communications and Media Authority revealed, “20 percent of Australians nominated social media as their main source of news in 2023, up from 17 percent in 2022.”   

The report found younger Australians were driving this change, with, “46 percent of 18–24-year-olds nominat(ing) social media as their main source of news [in 2023], up from 28 per cent in 2022.” 

The change has also brought about considerable criticism of Meta, particularly for enacting this change during Israel’s siege in Gaza, where citizen journalism has become a prominent form of political activism and news dissemination. 

In December last year, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the “systemic censorship” of Palestine content on Instagram and Facebook. The human rights group found, “1,050 takedowns and other suppressions of content [in] Instagram and Facebook that had been posted by Palestinians and their supporters, including human rights abuses.” The report concluded, “Of the 1,050 cases…1,049 involved peaceful content in support of Palestine.” 

The change also comes ahead of several crucial elections this year, including the US Presidential election. 

The procedure to change the default political content setting on Instagram, back to what it was prior to this change, is as follows:

  1. Go to “Settings and activity” page on profile
  2. Scroll down to “Suggested Content”, to  “Content Preferences” to “Political content” 
  3. Click “Don’t limit political content from people that you don’t follow” 

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