Instagram boss says it will change algorithm to stop mistreatment of black users, alongside other updates

'We need to take a harder look at the underlying systems we’ve built, and where we need to do more to keep bias out of these decisions' the company said.

Adam Smith
Tuesday 16 June 2020 08:51 BST

Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri said that the company needs to better support the black community, and is looking into how its “policies, tools, and processes impact black people”.

The Facebook-owned photo sharing platform will focus on four issues: harassment, verification, distribution, and algorithmic bias.

In a blog post, Instagram was vague about the changes it would make in these areas.

“Any work to address the inequalities Black people face has to start with the specific safety issues they experience day to day, both on and off platform”, Instagram says, claiming it will address “potential gaps” where its policy is lacklustre to those ends.

It is changing its account verification system to “ensure it’s as inclusive as possible,” but gave no further indication what those changes would be.

The company is also looking into the ways its algorithm filters content, both with regards to “shadowbanning” and structural biases in its systems.

Shadowbanning, described by Instagram in its post, is “filtering people without transparency, and limiting their reach as a result”.

The company says that it will be releasing more information about the types of content it does not recommend on its Explore tab “and other places”.

“We need to take a harder look at the underlying systems we’ve built, and where we need to do more to keep bias out of these decisions” the company said.

Questions about algorithmic bias have plagued social media companies for years. In 2019, Instagram was criticised when it was thought to be limiting users' posts to only a small percentage of their followers.

TikTok had to apologise for algorithmically hiding posts that included the Black Lives Matter or George Floyd hashtags from view, with the company saying it had to regain and repair [the] trust“ between it and the black community.

Facebook has recently been criticised about how it manages its algorithm too, after it reportedly shuttered research that would make the platform less divisive but would also be “antigrowth” and require “a moral stance”.

Systemic bias in technological algorithms is not unique to social media platforms either. IBM said it would not continue to develop general purpose facial recognition because of the ways in which it harms communities of colour.

Similarly, Amazon put a moratorium of one year on its own Rekognition facial recognition technology, following the protests in the US over the death of George Floyd.

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