Meta is limiting political content: what does this mean for young people’s engagement with politics?


Heather Gosling (She/Her) investigates Meta’s recent decision to stop proactively recommending political content on its platforms

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By Heather Gosling

Meta’s Instagram and Threads apps have recently announced that they will no longer recommend political content to users. The company defines political content as “potentially related to things like laws, elections, or social topics”. The broadness of this definition has been widely criticised by content creators, who are concerned about the political and social consequences of this decision, including censorship in an important global election year.
Whilst users are able to see political content from accounts they follow, they will not see any new political content on their feeds or the explore page – where new content is recommended to them. In order to see political content, users are able to turn this setting off, making this an “opt in” feature.
This new feature is intended to prevent misinformation and improve user experience on the app, however, it also raises concerns about censorship and freedom of expression. In its early days, social media embraced politics:. Facebook was seen as a fundamental part of Obama’s success in 2008, and the Arab Spring of 2012 proved that political campaigning on social media can be a powerful tool.
However, with the rise of misinformation on social media, Meta has been gradually limiting political content on Facebook since 2021. Although Instagram and Threads haven’t, until now, been limited in the same way, both platforms have been criticised for their involvement in politics. In December, Human Rights Watch criticised Instagram for censoring pro-Palistinian content. Deborah Brown, acting associate technology and human rights director at Human Rights Watch, stated that: “Meta’s censorship of content in support of Palestine adds insult to injury at a time of unspeakable atrocities and repression already stifling Palestinians’ expression.” Brown added that: “Social media is an essential platform for people to bear witness and speak out against abuses while Meta’s censorship is furthering the erasure of Palestinians’ suffering”. This suggests that by limiting political content on social media, Meta has silenced important voices that are speaking about political issues that do not receive the same coverage in mainstream media.
Many users expressed outrage at this new change, with many questioning whether the broad definition of political content could lead to posts that are not political being unnecessarily culled. Anything can be political, and therefore anyone can be censored. Keith Edwards, a Democratic political strategist and content creator, told the Washington Post, "The whole value-add for social media, for political people, is that you can reach normal people who might not otherwise hear a message that they need to hear, like, abortion is on the ballot in Florida, or voting is happening today," Edwards said. "There's TV ads, but who watches TV anymore? Most people are on their phones, and Meta apps are where most people hang out”.."
Due to increasingly polarised politics, hate speech and mis- and disinformation, Meta has received a litany of criticisms about political content on its platforms, and this has caused the social media giant to retreat away from the political sphere. In a Threads discussion, Instagram head Adam Mosseri stated that “Politics and hard news are important, I don’t want to imply otherwise. But my take is, from a platform’s perspective, any incremental engagement or revenue they might drive is not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let’s be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.”
However, a large percentage of young people engage with news and politics via social media. In a key year for global politics, this means that young people are disenfranchised from politics more so than before. Social media has been fundamental in political activism because it allows messages to be spread quickly. However, if no one can see these messages, this takes away democratic power from the younger generation, who are the main viewers of political content on social media. Despite criticisms against social media, it can truly be a force for good when used for activism or to highlight political issues that may not be receiving coverage in mainstream media. Therefore, in an important year for global politics with upcoming elections, the implications of this ban on political content will be severe.
To turn off this content-moderation feature, visit your profile and click the three dots icon in the top right. Then, enter the ‘Settings and activity’ menu. Scroll down to the ‘What you see’ section and tap ‘Content preferences’. From there, select ‘Political content’ to disable this feature.
Writers note: To read more about Meta’s new feature please view this article:
To read more about the quotes referenced in this article, please view this link: