Instagram launches survey to study race and improve user experience

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FILE PHOTO: Instagram app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Instagram knows it doesn’t have the best grasp on how different communities – particularly communities of color – use and are affected by the photo-sharing app, so they’re launching a study to better understand their user base.

The Meta Platforms Inc.-owned social platform is launching an optional, anonymous survey to log U.S. users’ racial and ethnic identification, which researchers at partner organizations will study based on other user habits and experiences. The company said in a statement on Thursday that the effort follows “requests made by the civil rights community, academics and regulators,” and that it hopes the project will inform how some users’ posts and videos are ranked algorithmically, and lead to a more inclusive product overall.

The questionnaire will be conducted by the digital survey company YouGov, and its analysis will be spearheaded by researchers at Northeastern University, Texas Southern University, the University of Central Florida and Oasis Labs. The company said users’ data will not be stored or linked to their accounts, and neither responses or a lack thereof will affect a person’s user experience on the app.

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Users for years have levied complaints that Instagram and other social media platforms aren’t doing enough to stamp out racism and bias. Meta, previously known as Facebook, first announced it would study the way racial bias impacts its algorithms in July 2020. The initiative came after activists staged global protests denouncing anti-Black racism and police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a White police officer.

In a post published that June, Adam Mosseri, who was chief executive officer of Instagram at the time, said the app was “a platform that stands for elevating Black voices, but at the same time Black people are often harassed, afraid of being ‘shadowbanned’, and disagree with many content takedowns.” He characterized the protests as “a moment when people around the world are rightfully demanding actions over words, and we owe the same to our community.”

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