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Instagram chief explains how the service decides what you see

Instagram chief explains how the service decides what you see


Adam Mosseri published the first in a new series of blogs

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri shed some light on how the social network decides what you see in a new blog post published on Tuesday. The explanation seems to be meant at least in part to combat persistent rumors that Instagram intentionally hides or disfavors certain posts, which Instagram says isn’t exactly true.

The short answer to how Instagram works is that it’s complicated. Instagram uses “thousands” of signals to determine what you see in your feed, according to Mosseri, and there isn’t just one algorithm that decides what shows up for you. But the company is also committed to better explaining why content is taken down and how the service surfaces posts, he writes. One of the more surprising revelations: most Instagram followers won’t see your posts anyway because “most people look at less than half of their Feed.”

“Most people look at less than half of their Feed.”

Tuesday’s blog is just the first of a series that “will shed more light on how Instagram’s technology works and how it impacts the experiences that people have across the app,” for example, so it seems we can expect more detailed breakdowns in the future.

In this first blog, Mosseri explained that Instagram uses “a variety of algorithms, classifiers, and processes, each with its own purpose” to determine what to show you. He then broke down the “signals” Instagram uses to surface something in your feed or in stories. Here are the “most important” signals, “roughly in order of importance:”

Information about the post. These are signals both about how popular a post is – think how many people have liked it – and more mundane information about the content itself, like when it was posted, how long it is if it’s a video, and what location, if any, was attached to it.

Information about the person who posted. This helps us get a sense for how interesting the person might be to you, and includes signals like how many times people have interacted with that person in the past few weeks.

Your activity. This helps us understand what you might be interested in and includes signals such as how many posts you’ve liked.

Your history of interacting with someone. This gives us a sense of how interested you are generally in seeing posts from a particular person. An example is whether or not you comment on each other’s posts.

Instagram will then predict how you might interact with a post, such as commenting or liking it. “The more likely you are to take an action, and the more heavily we weigh that action, the higher up you’ll see the post,” Mosseri said.

Mosseri also addressed how people accuse the service of silencing or “shadowbanning” users and said the company will do a better job of explaining why content is removed. “We’re developing better in-app notifications so people know in the moment why, for instance, their post was taken down, and exploring ways to let people know when what they post goes against our Recommendations Guidelines,” Mosseri said. Instagram will have “more to share soon” on those updates.

The blog post also details the signals the company uses to show you content in the Explore tab and on Reels (Instagram’s TikTok-like video service) — which, notably, primarily show you content from accounts you don’t follow.

Mosseri’s explanation hits as Instagram is kicking off its Creator Week event, designed to help creators build their brands on the platform.