Instagram Head Adam Mosseri on May 31 published a blog post explaining how the platform ranks content in Feed, Stories, Explore, Reels, and Search; sharing the various signals the company takes into account and how users can influence these signals.
Why does this matter: Given that social media platforms are often criticized for operating in a black box and not sharing how they decide what content is shown on top, this move by Instagram is welcome. It might help creators whose livelihood depends on how their content is ranked as well as researchers who study the spread of misinformation and other harmful content. Instagram has, however, not made its ranking algorithm public like Twitter, which has shared the entire code, and has only revealed surface-level details of the various algorithms it deploys.
“We want to do a better job of explaining how Instagram works. There are a lot of misconceptions out there, and we recognize that we can do more to help people, especially creators, understand what we do.” — Instagram Head Adam Mosseri
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Different parts of Instagram use different algorithms: There is no singular ranking algorithm powering the entire platform because users want to see different things in different parts of the app. For example, a user might prefer engaging with content from a wider base in Reels but only content from close friends in Stories, Mosseri explained.
Over 1000 signals are used to determine the Feed: The homepage of the app, which is the Feed, features content from followers, recommended content, and ads. Instagram determines what a user might be interested in “based on a variety of factors, including what and whom you’ve followed, liked or engaged with recently.” The platform also considers signals like whether a user likes photos or videos more. Mosseri explained that there are over 1000 such signals that are taken into account, but the most important ones are the user’s activity (likes, comments, saves), information about the post (how many have liked it, how fast, etc), and information about the poster (no. of times you interacted with the poster in the past).
What types of content will move lower in Feed and Stories: Mosseri pointed out that Instagram has already shared its guidelines for what types of content will show up lower in Feed and Stories. This includes content that goes against Community Guidelines, content that has been fact-checked by partners, and content that users have previously noted that they’re not interested in.
We don’t engage in shadowbanning: Shadowbanning refers to content being limited or hidden without a clear reason. “When we rank content across Instagram, that’s not our intention,” Mosseri wrote, responding to criticism that Instagram engages in shadowbanning. “Contrary to what you might have heard, it’s in our interest as a business to ensure that creators are able to reach their audiences and get discovered so they can continue to grow and thrive on Instagram,” Mosseri explained. “While we’ve heard some people believe you need to pay for ads to achieve better reach, we don’t suppress content to encourage people to buy ads. It’s a better business to make Instagram more engaging overall by growing reach for those who create the most engaging content, and sell ads to others,” Mosseri added. If content creators are still concerned about their content being shadowbanned, they can check why certain posts are not being recommended in their Account Status and file an appeal if they think the platform has made a mistake, Mosseri said.
Watch more of someone’s Stories and you will be shown more of them: When it comes to Stories, Instagram shows Stories from people you follow. The Stories are ranked primarily based on your viewing history (how often you viewed a person’s stories in the past) and engagement history (how often you engage with a person’s story by sending a like or a DM).
Explore and Reels are meant to help you discover new people and content: Algorithms start playing a much bigger role when it comes to the Explore and Reels tabs because these tabs are for discovering new people and content, unlike Feed and Stories which largely feature content from users you follow. “Most of the content you’ll see in Explore is from people you don’t follow, which changes the dynamic when you come across something problematic. If a friend you follow shares something offensive and you see that in your Feed, that’s between you and your friend (and you have the option to unfollow, block, mute, hide or report that person if you choose). However, we want to reduce the possibility of you seeing something offensive in Explore, since that is content we recommend to you from people you haven’t yet chosen to follow,” the company explained.
How you can influence the ranking: The blog post also shares details on how you can influence what you see. Adding accounts to the Favorites list, snoozing recommended posts for 30 days, creating a Close Friends list, muting accounts, and responding to surveys posed by Instagram are some ways to personalize your Feed and Stories. As for improving recommendations, you can mark content you don’t like as “Not Interested” and Instagram will tune the algorithm accordingly, proactively hide suggested posts, use the reporting tool, and adjust the Sensitive Content Control setting to see more or less of some types of sensitive content.
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