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Instagram will review how harassment and verification rules affect Black users

The company will also look at algorithmic bias and “shadowbanning” claims.
Karissa Bell, @karissabe
June 15, 2020
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POLAND - 2020/06/15: In this photo illustration an Instagram logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images via Getty Images

Instagram’s top executive says the company will review its harassment and verification policies, as well as how the app recommends content, in an effort to “elevate Black voices” on its platform.

In a statement, Instagram Head Adam Mosseri promised to address inequities in how the company approaches harassment, verification, content distribution and algorithmic bias. He didn’t offer specifics, noting that “this work is going to take some time,” but the issues reflect a range of widespread complaints about the photo sharing app, particularly from Black users.

“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,” Mosseri wrote.

On harassment, Mosseri said Instagram would look at “specific safety issues” affecting Black users and the “need to address potential gaps in how our products and policies protect people from those issues.” He didn’t elaborate on the issues or any specific policy updates that might be considered. 

On verification, he said Instagram would take steps to make the process more “inclusive.” “We’re looking into our current verification criteria and will make changes to ensure it’s as inclusive as possible,” Mosseri wrote. Instagram’s verification process has long been a source of frustration for many users. Though the company allows users to “request” verification in its app, the company is known for being stingy with blue checks, making the process susceptible to scammers and opportunists

Mosseri also promised to address complaints from Black creators who say the app discriminates against them and their content. This includes potential algorithmic bias, and claims of “shadowbanning,” a widely held belief that Instagram stealthily reduces the visibility of some users’ posts for real or perceived infractions. The company has consistently denied that it “shadowbans,” and now says it will further clarify how content is surfaced in Explore and hashtag pages.

We’ll review how content is filtered on Explore and Hashtag pages to understand where there may be vulnerability to bias. On top of that, we need to be clearer about how decisions are made when it comes to how people’s posts get distributed. Over the years we’ve heard these concerns sometimes described across social media as “shadowbanning” – filtering people without transparency, and limiting their reach as a result. Soon we’ll be releasing more information about the types of content we avoid recommending on Explore and other places.

Instagram’s update comes as Facebook has also promised to “review” a number of its policies, following an employee backlash over Mark Zuckerberg’s handling of posts from Donald Trump. Though Zuckerberg has also been light on specifics so far, he has pledged more transparency in the company’s decision-making princess and how the social network handles “threats of state use of force.”

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