Instagram is being widely criticized after it was revealed a "bug" in the program would show users negative hashtags related to Joe Biden if they searched for #JoeBiden while the same did not happen to people searching #PresidentTrump.
For at least the last two months, a "bug" in Instagram's hashtags has favored Donald Trump. Searches for #JoeBiden… https://t.co/MrxPChlA0d— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeed News) 1596644879.0
The app, which is owned by Facebook, uses an algorithm to suggest new content to its users.
For several months, however, it's been suggesting pro-Trump messaging to Joe Biden fans while searches related to Trump hashtags like #MAGA return only posts with those tags.
Searches for #JoeBiden earlier this week also turned up posts with the hashtags "#trump2020landslide and #democratsdestroyamerica."
Searches for "#Trump or #MAGA," meanwhile, showed only pro-Trump content.
@BuzzFeedNews That’s not a bug. That’s a feature. A very ugly, evil feature. Delete all Zuckerberg products.— Solve for WHY (@Solve for WHY) 1596675135.0
Many online believe this is the latest in a long line of times major social media companies have dropped the ball when it comes to election interference.
For months, Instagram's related hashtags feature has surfaced negative hashtags when users search for #JoeBiden. A… https://t.co/ovsVLxHXdr— Ryan Mac🙃 (@Ryan Mac🙃) 1596644864.0
Katie Paul, from the Tech Transparency Project, who first noticed the "glitch," commented:
"What we've seen with the related hashtags with Biden is that there is so much vitriol, that it appears to be benefitting President Trump...[it] removes any possibility that negative hashtags could be associated with his name or campaign slogans."
THREAD: NEW investigation by TTP has found that Instagram has shielded President Donald Trump from potentially nega… https://t.co/KQPZq4Cm0q— Tech Transparency Project (@Tech Transparency Project) 1596644601.0
Raki Wane of Instagram described the issue as a "bug" and said:
"A technical error caused a number of hashtags to not show related hashtags. We've disabled this feature while we investigate."
@BuzzFeedNews Not shocking. Mark Zuckerberg owns both FB and Instagram and caters to Trump.— Miss C (@Miss C) 1596682661.0
When asked about the issue, a Trump campaign spokesperson used this mistake (which benefitted the Trump campaign) to claim that social media giants are biased against conservatives.
"Social media companies' biases consistently make the strongest arguments for the President's Executive Order on Section 230 reform. It's preposterous that Silicon Valley, the bastion of diversity and liberalism, is terrified of intellectual diversity and conservative voices."
Nina Jankowicz, who works as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, commented:
"This feature doesn't just benignly increase engagement. It can lead to a tipping of scales in terms of equitable discourse."
On a platform that hosts roughly a third of the US population, the disparate treatment of the two presidential cand… https://t.co/ZtPmx6qjMZ— Tech Transparency Project (@Tech Transparency Project) 1596644838.0
Jankowicz said Instagram should be using additional human review to combat misinformation during the election season.
"In times of crisis or volatile times ahead of an election, this stuff should be going under constant human review. It shouldn't be left up to a computer code to direct people's consumption during a time like this."