Okay, well need to take a step back for a moment here.
Earlier this week, Kylie Jenner shared a post with her 360 million Instagram followers in support of a new petition to ‘Make Instagram Instagram Again’, and revert the app back to how it was before the platform began inserting much more video and recommended content into people’s home feeds.
That petition, which now has more than 225k supporters, calls on Instagram to:
- Bring back the chronological timeline
- Stop trying to be TikTok
- Favor photos in the main display
- Listen to creators
The main impetus here is that users are not happy with the increase in video content, with many just wanting to see updates from their friends, as opposed to random posts from profiles that they don’t follow in the app.
Instagram chief Adam Mosseri responded to this, explaining that while he understands that some people are annoyed, the changes are based on usage trends, and as such, Instagram’s going to stick with them, in order to align with people’s interests.
Yesterday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg went even further, noting that the amount of content displayed to users based on AI recommendations (i.e. accounts you don’t follow) is going to double over the next year.
This, increasingly, is where things are headed, which Meta has reiterated once again today.
As we continue to improve our AI, we’re seeing the value it provides. After launching a new AI model for recommendations, we saw a 15% increase in watch time in the Reels video player on Facebook. That means more valuable content for people and more advertising potential.
— Meta Newsroom (@MetaNewsroom) July 28, 2022
So, like it or not, this is happening, your Instagram feed is changing in line with broader trends, and the stats show that this is the right path.
Makes sense? Well, now Mosseri has seemingly backtracked on that also.
Today, in a new interview with Casey Newton for Platformer, Mosseri has explained that Instagram will actually take a step back from recommended content, as well as its experiment with a full-screen, TikTok-like viewing experience.
As per Mosseri:
“For the new feed designs, people are frustrated and the usage data isn’t great. So there I think that we need to take a big step back, regroup, and figure out how we want to move forward.”
Mosseri seems to be primarily focused on the full-screen IG feed format, which he says will be phased out entirely over the next couple of weeks. But on its AI recommendations, Mosseri also notes that they got it wrong, and that it needs to be re-assessed.
“When you discover something in your field that you didn’t follow before, there should be a high bar – it should just be great. You should be delighted to see it, and I don’t think that’s happening enough right now. So I think we need to take a step back, in terms of the percentage of feed that are recommendations, get better at ranking and recommendations, and then – if and when we do – we can start to grow again.”
So, you can expect to see fewer recommended posts on IG once again, which is a win for the Kardashians, and another endorsement of their influence over social platforms based on their massive audience reach (though Mosseri says that this wasn’t specifically a factor in its decision).
But it’s also a little confusing. On one hand, Zuckerberg is saying ‘more’, while on the other, Mosseri says that it ‘got it wrong’. Which statement actually holds more true to the longer-term plans for the app is hard to say – though it is worth noting that while Instagram may be reducing these new experiments right now, Mosseri also seems fairly clear on the fact that they are the way forward, and that more recommended video posts will be coming to your IG feed.
Just, maybe, not yet.
Does that mean that Instagram will ease back to, say, 10% of your feed being recommendations, before ramping back up over the next few months, with the longer-term target of 30% (as stated by Zuckerberg) still in mind?
Mosseri has underlined the fact that these changes are based on usage trends, and if Instagram can eek out more engagement by aligning with evolving shifts, it’s going to do it. So while it may feel like a short-term ‘win’ for those in support of old IG, I suspect it will be short-lived, and that Meta will continue to lean in to AI recommendations, especially as it seeks to prop up its ad business in any way that it can.
But there is a delicate balance required, and both Mosseri and Zuck are both well aware of this.
At the end of the day, though, Instagram is going to change.
Here’s my tip – I’m guessing that Meta’s currently pushing its team of 70+ lobbyists in Washington to keep amplifying the ongoing concerns with TikTok, in the hopes that the app will face more regulatory scrutiny, and a potential ban in the US.
Meta spent $20 million on lobbying in 2021, and there’s already an established history of it seeding concerns about its Chinese-owned rival. If Meta can get TikTok banned, or even restricted, that will open the door for Instagram to take hold – just as it has in India, in the wake of the TikTok ban in that region.
In this respect, Instagram’s changes may well be viewed as a pathway to replace TikTok entirely, not just replicate it – and if that happens, you can bet that a lot more people will be more open to Instagram making such updates.
Expect to see more reports of US senators raising serious concerns about TikTok in the coming months.
Fresh fears after Facebook’s role in US abortion case
Facebook’s role in an abortion prosecution has raised fresh worries from advocates – Copyright AFP/File Javed TANVEER
Facebook sparked outrage by complying with US police probing an abortion case, boosting simmering fears the platform will be a tool for clamping down on the procedure.
Criticism built after media reports revealed the social networking giant had turned over messages key to a mother being criminally charged with an abortion for her daughter.
Advocates had warned of exactly this kind of thing after America’s top court revoked the national right to abortion in late June, as big tech companies hold a trove of data on users locations and behavior.
Jessica Burgess, 41, was accused of helping her 17-year-old daughter to terminate a pregnancy in the midwestern US state of Nebraska.
She faces five charges — including one under a 2010 law which only allows abortion up to 20 weeks after fertilization.
The daughter faces three charges, including one of concealing or abandoning a corpse.
Yet Facebook owner Meta defended itself Tuesday by noting the Nebraska court order “didn’t mention abortion at all”, and came before the Supreme Court’s highly divisive decision in June to overturn Roe v Wade, the case which conferred right to abortion in the United States.
“That sentence would seem to imply that *if* the search warrants mentioned abortion, there would be a different result. But of course that’s not true,” tweeted Logan Koepke, who researches on how technology impacts issues like criminal justice.
When queried about handing over the data, the Silicon Valley giant pointed AFP to its policy of complying with government requests when “the law requires us to do so.”
Nebraska’s restrictions were adopted years before Roe was overturned. Some 16 states have outright bans or limits in the early weeks of pregnancy in their jurisdictions.
– ‘Can’t release encrypted chats’ –
For tech world watchers, the Nebraska case surely won’t be the last.
“This is going to keep happening to companies that have vast amounts of data about people across the country and around the world,” said Alexandra Givens, CEO of the non-profit Center for Democracy & Technology.
She went on to note that if companies receive a duly-issued legal request, under a valid law, there are strong incentives for them to want to comply with that request.
“The companies at a minimum have to make sure that they’re insisting on a full legal process, that warrants are specific and not a fishing expedition, searches are very narrowly construed and that they notify users so that users can try to push back,” Givens added.
Meta did not provide AFP the Nebraska court’s order. The police filing asked the judge to order the company not to tell Burgess’s daughter about the search warrant for her Facebook messages.
“I have reason to believe that notifying the subscriber or customer of the issuance of this search warrant may result in the destruction of or tampering with evidence,” police detective Ben McBride wrote.
He told the court he began investigating “concerns” in late April that Burgess’s daughter had given birth prematurely to a “stillborn child”, which they allegedly buried together.
Advocates noted that apart from not using Meta’s products, one sure way to keep users’ communications out of government hands would be for them to be automatically encrypted.
Meta-owned WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, which means the company does not have access to the information, but that level of privacy protection is not the default setting on Facebook messenger.
“The company has never said it would not comply with a request from law enforcement in a situation related to abortions,” said Caitlin Seeley George, a campaign director at advocacy group Fight for the Future.
“If users could rely on encrypted messaging, Meta wouldn’t even be in a position where they could share conversations,” she added.
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