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Meta is limiting how much political content users see. Here's how to opt out of that

Meta is rolling out new changes to Instagram and Threads, automatically limiting the amount of political content users see from accounts they do not follow.
Loic Venance
AFP via Getty Images
Meta is rolling out new changes to Instagram and Threads, automatically limiting the amount of political content users see from accounts they do not follow.

Meta — the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and Threads — is making good on its promise to tamp down the amount of political posts that users see on their feeds.

Meta said in early February that Instagram and Threads would stop recommending political content from accounts that users don't already follow. It said it would roll out the changes "slowly over time," though did not specify when.

The change started unrolling for users last week, Meta confirmed to NPR on Monday. And Instagram users quickly started noticing that their default settings had changed to limit content that is "likely to mention governments, elections, or social topics that affect a group of people and/or society at large," as the app now puts it.

The change has caught even the most online off guard, with many users criticizing Meta for limiting political content in a year when the U.S. and several other countries will be holding pivotal elections — and for doing so with relatively little warning.

And many noted that Meta's definition of political content — "potentially related to things like laws, elections, or social topics" — appears rather broad.

The company has refused to further clarify what exactly constitutes political content under its cryptic definition.

But the move is in line with a yearslong shift away from news across Meta's services. Last year, the company's executives said Threads would not boost posts about news and social issues, angering many who turn to social media to stay up to date.

Spokesperson Dani Lever told several media outlets that the change builds on "years of work on how we approach and treat political content based on what people have told us they wanted."

While company executives argue that the shift away from news is what users want, experts say Meta is also trying to distance itself from accusations of political bias and being blamed for the rise of misinformation and the growth of online extremism.

What the change does — and how to undo it

Meta has emphasized that the new setting won't affect content from accounts that people already follow and that it gives them the option to choose how much political content they get recommended otherwise.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri said on Threads last month that the change will influence what people see on their main feeds of Instagram and Threads, like the explore page, reels, feed recommendations and suggested users.

"Our goal is to preserve the ability for people to choose to interact with political content, while respecting each person's appetite for it," Mosseri said.

You can update your preferences in the app to avoid Instagram limiting political content.
Instagram / Screenshots and annotations by NPR
Screenshots and annotations by NPR
You can update your preferences in the app to avoid Instagram limiting political content.

Meta has stressed that people who want political recommendations can still opt in to getting them. Here's how:

  • Go to your Instagram profile and tap the three horizontal lines in the top-right corner to open the "Settings and activity" tab.
  • Scroll down to the "What you see" section and click on "Content preferences."
  • Open the "Political content" page and turn on the "Don't limit political content" option.

Meta is characterizing the change as an extension of its current approach to political content.

It made significant changes to its algorithm in recent years, after mounting evidence and criticism of the role that Facebook and Instagram played in sowing misinformation and polarization in the 2016 and 2020 U.S. elections. Facebook has increasingly leaned into entertainment and away from news, disrupting traffic for many major publishers.

"People have told us they want to see less political content, so we have spent the last few years refining our approach on Facebook to reduce the amount of political content — including from politicians' accounts — you see in Feed, Reels, Watch, Groups You Should Join, and Pages You May Like," Meta explained in February.

It said Facebook users will also get the choice to opt in to political recommendations "at a later date."

NPR's Bobby Allyn contributed reporting.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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