As you may have heard by now, Instagram's new default setting limits all users' exposure to political content. On the other hand, this may be the first you've heard of it — Meta made a low key announcement in a February blogpost, which slipped pretty much under the radar. 
 
Following a recent system update, this is now the default setting for all Instagram users. But what is "political"? How does this new default setting affect your brand? And what can you do to mitigate the effect? Read on for more. 

What Does Instagram's Political Content Control Actually Mean? 

The new default setting means "political" content, or content from "political" accounts will no longer appear in your Instagram Feed, Reels, Explore, or Suggested Users. Instagram will not filter content from followed accounts, Meta has said, but the algorithm will not “proactively” bring up content from unfollowed accounts. 
 
The same limitations now also apply to Threads — though Threads confirmed its new Topics section will not limit political content. Changes to both platforms follow Meta's ongoing efforts to reduce political content on Facebook, since 2021. 
 
It's important to understand that your Instagram account is now automatically set at "Limit political content" until you change it. (Skip to the final section to find out how!) 

Why is Instagram Limiting Political Content? 

In its February blogpost announcing the move, Meta said its aim was to make its platforms “a great experience for everyone” — it has also stated, more than once, that Instagram users are explicitly asking for less political content. Reportedly, Meta may also be responding to widespread accusations it amplified disinformation and hate speech, following the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. 

What Does “Political” Mean on Instagram? 

The first problem with this policy is the definition of “political content” is kinda vague. I mean, how could it not be? 
 
Instagram’s settings itself describe “political content” as “likely to mention governments, elections, or social topics that affect a group of people and/or society at large.” Speaking on CNN, a Meta spokesperson said the definition would “evolve”, “as we continue to engage with the people and communities who use our platforms and external experts to refine our approach”. 

The Controversy Behind Instagram’s New Default Political Setting  

There are widespread concerns this change will suppress political news and debate in a year of important global elections — particularly as we’re reaching crunch-time on issues like climate change, democracy and high stakes geopolitical conflicts. 
 
We live in a time when more people get their news and information from social media, rather than from actual news sites. According to Reuters’ 2023 Digital News Report, this is particularly true of 18-to-24 year-olds — the latest generation of voters — a solid majority of whom also favour Instagram above other social media channels. 
 
There is some truth in Meta's suggestion that many people don't want to see politics on Instagram. (The Reuters report found Instagram users are more interested in ‘fun’ content, rather than serious geopolitical or climate change news). But the concept of artificially insulating all Instagram users from anything a big tech company sees as "political", is something else entirely. 
 
There are times when the most unpolitical brand may want to take a public stand — a huge example being Black Lives Matter, when many household names chose to speak out. This new default setting will almost certainly have a chilling effect on this. Many smaller brands relying heavily on Instagram for their marketing may start asking themselves if it's worth posting anything that could be "political", within the broader parameters Meta has set. 
 

The Rabbit Hole and the Shadow Ban  

The latest change follows years of 'algorithm' angst from all Intagram users — from political activists through to social media managers.  
 
On the one hand, there's the 'rabbit hole' — in which social media algorithms have been found to radicalise users, by dragging them deeper into echo chambers of disinformation and extremism — a problem intensified during the isolation of global lockdowns. Kelly Weill’s book "Off the Edge" on the flat Earth conspiracy theory provides some stunning examples of this — particularly on YouTube and Facebook.  
 
On the other side of the looking glass is ‘shadow banning’ — where social media platforms allegedly make accounts invisible without notifying them, by limiting visibility on posts, comments or profiles. In recent months, Instagram has been accused of 'silencing' pro-Palestinian voices — reports from Human Rights Watch and The Markup citing detailed and widespread examples of this. 
 
At this moment, for epic rhetoric, I could say — "Now, we are all being shadow banned". I won't say that. What I will say, is 'shadow banning' and 'limiting political content' clearly share some DNA.  
 
The most problematic element of the new setting comes down to what — or who — is "political" and who gets to decide. In a sense, everything is political — in subtext at least. And if one type of content is labelled "political" and hidden, other content moves into its place. This gives a social media channel even greater power to curate what people see and how they come to view the world around them. And that's political. 
 
So, what can we all do about it? Well, the first thing anyone can do on Instagram is change the default setting. The second is to tell more people about it. 

How to Change Instagram’s Political Content Setting 

Unless you've changed it already, "Limit political content" is now the default setting for your Instagram account — but it’s easy to change. 
 
First — go to the mobile app (it has to be the mobile app!). Go to your profile page and hit the three-line icon on the top right of the screen. This brings you to the menu for either ‘Settings and activity’ or ‘Settings and privacy’, depending on your location. 
 
Scroll down to the heading ‘What you see’, quite near the bottom. Then select either "Suggested content" or "Content preferences" (once again, this depends on where you are). Select "Political content" from the list that follows.  
 
Here, you can switch from the default setting of: 
 
-Limit political content from people that you don’t follow 
 
To: 
 
-Don’t limit political content from people that you don’t follow 

Need More Help Navigating Social Media as an Ethical Brand? 

Sometimes social media is a tough path to tread for an ethical brand — you want to make it work for you, but there are always dilemmas along the way. How do you make social media work for you without compromising your brand. 
 
I've supported a variety of brands on their social strategy and I'm always happy to talk things through — even if you're just trying to work out what comes next. 
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