אינסטגרם רילס
Photo-sharing app Instagram
Photo: Shutterstock
Photo-sharing app Instagram

Instagram overhauls algorithm after accusations of anti-Palestinian bias

Photo-sharing app's employees claim moderation system incorrectly flagged posts as associated with 'violence or dangerous organizations'; company rejects claims posts were targeted due to their political nature

Oshrit Ben-El |
Published: 05.31.21 , 19:45
Instagram has changed its algorithm after a group of employees accused the app of suppressing pro-Palestinian posts during the recent fighting between Israel and Gaza terrorist factions, the company said on Sunday.
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  • Dozens of employees reportedly protested the company's moderation system and claimed it was unjustly removing posts after being incorrectly flagged as associated with “violence or dangerous organizations".
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    אינסטגרם רילס
    אינסטגרם רילס
    Photo-sharing app Instagram
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    Among several examples given, the workers pointed to posts concerning the al-Aqsa Mosque — a major flashpoint in recent Jewish-Arab violence — that were accidentally removed after the algorithm mixed up the Jerusalem mosque with the name of the terror outfit al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.
    They further claimed that the Facebook-owned app was slanted toward pro-Israeli content, which could hurt the trust of Arab users and could lead to the company bleeding out users in favor of competing apps.
    Some Facebook employees have even actively appealed against the removal of content that they deemed to have been incorrectly targeted by Facebook and Instagram.
    One worker told the Financial Times he did not believe the censorship was intentional but claimed that "large-scale content management is biased against any discriminated group."
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    הר הבית
    הר הבית
    Palestinian protesters in from of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem
    (Photo: AFP)
    A Facebook spokesperson told technology news website the Verge on Sunday that it was caused by the algorithm prioritizing original posts over shared content, giving the impression that it was suppressing certain views or topics.
    “We want to be really clear — this isn’t the case,” the spokesperson said. “This applied to any post that’s re-shared in stories, no matter what it’s about.”
    The company said that in the past people had clearly preferred to see original content, but that has changed, especially during times of conflict.
    “There’s been an increase— not just now but in the past as well — in how many people are resharing posts, and we’ve seen a bigger impact than expected on the reach of these posts,” the spokesperson said. “Stories that reshare feed posts aren’t getting the reach people expect them to, and that’s not a good experience.”
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    העימותים בבירה
    העימותים בבירה
    Police clash with Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah
    (Photo: AFP)
    Following similar allegations, many users even gave a low rating to Facebook and Instagram apps in Apple and Google app stores as a sign of protest over content filtering during the campaign.
    The photo-sharing app has also come under fire, alongside micro-blogging site Twitter, for deleting posts mentioning the possible eviction of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a problem which both big tech giants blamed on technical errors.
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