Are social media platforms really removing some of our content?
Since the The internet has made everyone a potential artist or commentator, it is only natural that we are interested in the number of people who read, watch or listen to us.
But this interest can quickly become an obsession – after all, getting an audience isn’t easy, and maintaining it is even more difficult.
A whole industry has been built to advise people on maximizing the reach of their posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and other social media platforms, but the factors that make a tweet, image or video more popular than any other are in largely unknown.
Into this information vacuum rush annoyance, anger and accusation, the most common complaint being that of “shadowbanning”, the idea that platforms, intentionally or not, discreetly remove our content without our knowledge, and don’t give it an equal chance to be seen and heard.
Just last month, shadowbanning was blamed for the disappearance of social media posts reporting the impending expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah to East Jerusalem.
Instagram responded with a statement that these deletions were a global issue that included these Palestinian posts, but it remains to be assumed that it was the result of a widespread covert practice that unfairly penalizes people.
Adam Mosseri, CEO of Instagram, tried to dispel some of the criticism leveled at its platform in a series of blog posts, the first of which begins: “It’s hard to trust what you don’t understand.”
It explains in detail how its automated systems categorize people’s photos and videos, and the reasons they might be downgraded.
Regarding shadowbanning, Mosseri had previously stated, during a Q&A on Instagram, that it is “not a thing” – that he does not exist. But his comments are now more circumspect, perhaps because several studies have shown that he exists in one form or another. “We can’t promise you that you will consistently reach the same number of people when you post,” he says. “But we can be more transparent and work to make fewer mistakes. “
Some evidence of shadowbanning can usually be found when platforms inconsistently enforce their own rules regarding inappropriate content.
The double standards surrounding nudity and semi-nudity are said to affect content posted by athletes, educators and artists, and have been shown to have a disproportionate impact on women and people of color.
Automated systems have been shown to struggle with languages such as Arabic, resulting in overzealous deletion of messages, while content that ‘rubs’ against the rules – even if they do. are not broken – can often end up demoted.
The fact that the majority of these demotions are automated and performed by algorithms means There are little transparency, which in turn generates paranoia, says Carolina Are, online moderation researcher at City, University of London.
“People tend to believe in conspiracy theories in times of uncertainty,” she says. “So if people aren’t sure what’s happening to their content on the platform, they’re going to come up with their own reasons why it’s not going well. The fact that platforms like Instagram must have gone wrong. excusing for censoring users means it’s only natural people will think platforms are trying to reduce the reach of their content. “
Because of this uncertainty, the shadow ban charges have become a practical and powerful weapon for the alt-right in the United States., with former President Donald Trump tweeting about Republicans subject to this “discriminatory and illegal practice,” helping to spread the idea that social media platforms have an inherent political bias.
This idea continues to swirl; this year, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga accused Facebook of suppressing “conservative and right-wing Christian views”.
Such accusations are always strongly denied by platforms, and the real reasons why content is not popular are often more prosaic..
“For example, you might see that an Instagram user isn’t using the ‘Spools’ feature, which Instagram is trying hard to push right now,” Are says. “So they might not recommend this account because it doesn’t do what they want it to do.”
This problem was highlighted in Instagram’s late response to accusations of Palestinian censorship; this said its policy of favoring original content over repeats of identical content was to blame, and promised to make changes to that prioritization.
As new users join these platforms and content proliferates, algorithms will have to work harder to sift through and recommend things that we’ll probably want to see, but Are thinks. platforms need to be held more accountable for the changes they bring and the spillover effects that may occur.
“They might say, oh, we’ve got too much content so mistakes are going to be made,” she said. “They might say [in relation to censorship], oh, we have so many users and we have to please everyone. But do they really need to rule over so much content? I think the platforms are trying to do too much. It is not realistic for them to have an effective moderation system on this scale.
But controlling the promotion of online content, linked as it is to financial, corporate and cultural considerations, is not something Big Tech will give up easily. Transparency is probably the best we can hope for.
“The lack of clarity with which platforms recommend, moderate and deliver content is really striking,” Are says. “As a user, you find yourself in a vacuum hoping your content is performing well, without the platform telling you what’s going on. It’s a service we use, and we should be told how to use it the most to our advantage. I don’t think that’s happening right now.