Purported Bug in Instagram’s Hashtags Has Been Favoring Donald Trump

Ryan Mac, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Earlier this week, a search on Instagram for #JoeBiden would have surfaced nearly 390,000 posts tagged with the former vice president’s name along with related hashtags selected by the platform’s algorithm. Users searching Instagram for #JoeBiden might also see results for #joebiden2020, as well as pro-Trump hashtags like #trump2020landslide and #democratsdestroyamerica.

A similar search for #DonaldTrump on the platform, however, provided a totally different experience. Besides showing 7 million posts tagged with the president’s name, Instagram did not present any related hashtags that would have pushed users toward different content or promoted alternative viewpoints.

Maybe it was an honest bug, maybe not. But Facebook’s institutional credibility is so low it’s hard to take them at their word. And then there’s this response from Instagram’s official comms team, on Twitter:

This isn’t about politics. Tens of thousands of hashtags were affected, and your story cherry-picked a handful of those thousands to fit a sensational narrative. The bug was also not partisan, as you note #democrats was impacted.

Via Parker Molloy, who notes that this combative tone — expressly impugning Mac’s integrity — is not how Facebook/Instagram has ever responded to accusations of bias against Republicans.

Whatever you think about the purported bug — and as skeptical as I am about Facebook, I actually think there’s a good chance it really was just a bug — this response from their comms teams is the real eye-opener.

Update: Also note that Instagram accuses Mac of “cherry-picking” for singling out the Biden/Trump differences. They know those are the only two candidates. How can it be “cherry picking” to compare how Instagram is treating the only two major presidential candidates? What the hell kind of bushel only has two cherries to choose from? And you can’t argue that it was about cherry-picking hashtags, not candidates, when the core hashtags in question were “#JoeBiden” and “#DonaldTrump”.

Friday, 7 August 2020