This is how Instagram really works

This is how Instagram really works


After recent controversy surrounding its algorithm, Instagram has finally explained how the social media network works.

In a blog post, the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, aimed to clear up misconceptions about the platform, specifically about its algorithm.

“Instagram doesn’t have one algorithm that oversees what people do and don’t see on the app. We use a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose,” said Mosseri.

During its initial launch in 2010, Instagram was a single stream of photos in chronological order.

But as more people joined and more images were shared, it became impossible for users to see everything and people were missing 70% of all their posts in Feed. To fix this, Instagram said it developed and introduced a feed that ranked posts based on what you care about most.

How Instagram ranks Feed and Stories

Instagram starts by defining the set of things it plans to rank in the first place.

It then takes all the information it has about what was posted, the people who made those posts as well as your preferences. Instagram calls this “signals”. Signals include everything from what time a post was shared to whether you’re using a phone or the web to how often you like videos.

The most important signals across Feed and Stories, roughly in order of importance, are: Information about the post, information about the person who posted, your activity and your history of interacting with an account.

From these signals, a set of predictions are made. Think of them like educated guesses at how likely you are to interact with a post in different ways.

When we think interactions, we think comment and like. But it also means the time spent on a post, save it, and tap on the profile photo.

The more likely you are to take an action and the more heavily Instagram weigh that action, the higher up you’ll see the post or the more prominent the post will be.

“There are a few cases where we try to take other considerations into account. One example of this is where we try to avoid showing too many posts from the same person in a row. Another example is Stories that were ’reshared’ from feed: until recently, we valued these Stories less, because we’ve heard consistently that people are more interested in seeing original Stories. But we see a swell of reshared posts in big moments – everything from the World Cup to social unrest – and in these moments people were expecting their Stories to reach more people than they did, so we stopped.”

Instagram says that while it wants to let people express themselves, it steps in when something jeopardises another person’s safety.

“If you post something that goes against our Community Guidelines and we find it, we take it down. If this happens repeatedly, we may prevent you from sharing, and eventually we might suspend your account. If you think we’ve made a mistake – and we do make mistakes – you can appeal by following these steps.”

Then there is the case of misinformation.

“If you post something that third-party fact checkers label as misinformation, we don’t take it down, but we do apply a label and show the post lower in feed and stories. If you’ve posted misinformation multiple times, we may make all of your content harder to find.”

How Instagram ranks Explore

As with the above, Instagram ranks posts by defining a set of posts to rank.

To find photos and videos you might be interested in, we look at signals like what posts you’ve liked, saved, and commented on in the past.

Once we’ve found a group of photos and videos you might be interested in, we then order them by how interested we think you are in each one, much like how we rank Feed and Stories.

The most important actions Instagram predicts in Explore include likes, saves, and shares. The most important signals we look at, in rough order of importance, are: Information about the post, your history of interacting with the person who posted, your activity, information about the person who posted.

So what about the shadowbanning?

Instagram has recently been in hot water over “shadowbanning” or silencing users when posting about current affairs. Instagram maintains that is not its intention to silence or victimise people and said the fewer likes and comments are due to followers not seeing everything.

“We can’t promise you that you’ll consistently reach the same amount of people when you post. The truth is most of your followers won’t see what you share, because most look at less than half of their Feed. But we can be more transparent about why we take things down when we do, work to make fewer mistakes – and fix them quickly when we do – and better explain how our systems work.”

Instagram says it is working on improved in-app notifications so people know in the moment why, for instance, their post was taken down.

How you can influence what you see

– Pick your Close Friends. You can select your close friends for Stories. This feature was designed as to let you share with just the people closest to you, but we will also prioritise these friends in both Feed and Stories.

– Mute people you’re not interested in. While choosing “close friends” is important, it will also help to mute an account if you’d like to stop seeing what they share, but are hesitant about unfollowing them entirely.

– Mark recommended posts as “Not Interested.” You might not know this, but whenever you see a recommendation that you are not interested (whether it’s in Explore or in Feed), you can indicate you are “not interested” in that post. You will stop seeing similar recommendations in the future.


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