An increasing number of Instagram users are lodging complaints against the platform, accusing it of inadequately promoting pro-Palestinian content. These grievances are often characterized as a form of censorship. Meta, the parent company of both Facebook and Instagram, has previously refuted similar claims.
The term commonly used to describe this phenomenon is “shadow banning.” This practice involves intentionally reducing the visibility of users, comments, videos, or messages on Instagram, Facebook, or other social media channels.
One notable instance of shadow banning is that experienced by investigative journalist Azmat Khan. Her posts on Instagram concerning the conflict in Gaza resulted in a reduction of their visibility. “Many of my colleagues and fellow journalists have encountered similar situations. This poses a significant threat to the dissemination of information and the integrity of journalism,” remarked Azmat Khan, a Pulitzer Prize winner.
After posting an Instagram story about the war in Gaza yesterday, my account was shadowbanned. Many colleagues and journalists friends have reported the same. It’s an extraordinary threat to the flow of information and credible journalism about an unprecedented war…
— Azmat Khan (@AzmatZahra) October 15, 2023
Noussair Mazraoui, the Moroccan-Dutch footballer, has also raised concerns about shadow banning. The Bayern player recently shared a video in Munich in which he expressed support for Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.
Mazraoui, formerly of Ajax, has asserted that the stories he, along with Hakim Ziyech (formerly of Ajax) and Zakaria Aboukhlal (formerly of AZ), post are only visible when someone visits their profiles. Typically, such content should also appear in the timelines of their followers. Mazraoui was quoted as saying, “They’re trying to silence us. It’s essentially us against the world.” Writers and influencers have also addressed this issue on social media.
Meta, on the other hand, claims that the Instagram stories feature was plagued by technical glitches. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone stated, “This bug had global repercussions and was unrelated to the content in question.” According to Stone, the issue has since been resolved.
Meta did not provide a response.
The question of whether there has been shadow banning of pro-Palestinian content is difficult to ascertain, according to Michael Klos, an assistant professor of law. Klos explains, “It’s hard to determine because there can be various reasons why certain content performs better or worse. However, the fact that people have raised concerns necessitates an explanation from the platform. It’s essential to demonstrate a commitment to the principles of freedom of expression.”
For instance, social media platforms are prohibited from making comments less visible or hiding them without notifying users if they have violated the platform’s rules. Klos notes, “In such cases, the platform is legally obligated to inform the individual through a report.”