As Americans made their way to polling stations to vote in a seismic presidential election on Tuesday, much of the discussion has been about the ‘disappearance’ or ‘reappearance’ of mail-in ballots. With the dizzying and disorientating excitement that comes with such a significant election, something that may have passed you by is Instagram’s decision to hide hashtags.
Censorship on social media has been a contentious subject in American politics, with many claiming that the Silicon Valley tech companies are unfairly biased in their activity. This may be true, but the spread of misinformation online is becoming more and more of an issue. Conspiracy theories such as QAnon have been spreading like wildfire in the past few years, and many believe candidates are using social media to whip up similar false information to their advantage.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past four years, it may have come to your attention that Donald Trump likes to tweet. We’ve already seen just how far Twitter is willing to go in order to tackle the growing problem of misinformation on the platform. For example, Donald Trump’s tweets are often displayed, not deleted, with a warning message about misleading information. Instagram has also taken a similar stance, committing to the use of fact-checkers and using warning messages about misinformation before displaying posts.
However, in a surprising and unprecedented decision, Instagram decided to hide the recent tag from hashtags pages due to the US election. This was only for US citizens and led to an inability to access the tab within the app on the days leading up to the election on November 3rd. Instagram tweeted: “As we near the U.S. elections, we’re making changes to make it harder for people to come across possible misinformation on Instagram … We’re doing this to reduce the real-time spread of potentially harmful content that could pop up around the election.”
Ultimately, as social media continues to play a significant role in our lives, these kinds of decisions will become more and more common. The attempts to stop the spread of misinformation may be entirely in good faith, but whether they work or not is yet to be seen.