Equity updates – what we’ve been up to and what comes next

By Rachel Brooks, Stacey Houston, Christina Wadsworth

April 26, 2021

Every day, Black people push culture forward on Instagram. From activists and community builders, to educators and creatives, they embody what it means to inspire, start global trends, create new genres and forms of expression, and use their voices to hold people and companies accountable.

When we established the Instagram Equity team, our goal was to dig deeper into the concerns raised by marginalized communities on Instagram. Over the past few months, our team has been building on the foundation established last summer to create a more equitable platform. Since our last update we’ve made further progress, which we wanted to share with you today.

First of all, what does the Equity team do?

The Equity team was formed to address the challenges that people from marginalized backgrounds may face on Instagram. We know these challenges cannot all be solved overnight, and that in trying to do too many things at once, we won’t do any one particularly well. That’s why we decided to first dig deeper into the specific concerns raised by Black people on our platform, build solutions, and make changes that make them feel more supported. We believe that doing so not only benefits everyone on Instagram, but also gives us a model for how we can approach other marginalized communities’ needs.

Early work here includes extensive research with different subsets and intersections of the Black community to make sure we understand and serve its diversity. We’ve spoken with creators, activists, policy minds and everyday people to unpack the diversity of experiences people have when using the platform. We are also in the process of auditing the technology that powers our automated enforcement, recommendations and ranking to better understand the changes necessary to help ensure people do not feel marginalized on our platform.

This foundational work helped us to narrow our focus, and finalize what our team will be concentrating on more specifically. Our team will now focus on three areas:

  • Helping every Instagram employee prioritize building equitable products and tools
  • Promoting fairness on the platform through our technology and automated systems
  • Using Instagram to create more opportunities for empowerment.

Helping every Instagram employee prioritize building equitable products and tools

Making the platform more equitable is everyone’s responsibility at Instagram. Over the last few months, the Equity team launched an internal program to help employees responsible for building new products and technologies factor in equity at every step of their work. The program, called the Equitable Product Program, was created to help teams consider what changes, big and small, they can make to have a positive impact on marginalized communities. It gives employees the tools to think holistically about what they are building, specifically considering the impact of new features on marginalized communities. Equitable Product Program includes guiding teams through product audits with equity in mind, trainings, helping teams rename loaded terms from the codebase (i.e., moving from industry standards like whitelist and blacklist to allowlist and blocklist for example), and more. So far we’ve worked with three of our largest teams (the Feed and Stories, Reels, and Creator teams) to reassess those products and understand improvements we can make. Over the next year and a half we'll expand this program to all Instagram teams.

On the more technical side, we launched Machine Learning Model Cards on Instagram, a checklist that helps ensure new machine learning is designed with equity top of mind. Model cards work similar to a questionnaire, and make sure teams stop to consider any ramifications their new models may have before they’re implemented, to reduce the potential for algorithmic bias. Model cards pose a series of equity-oriented questions and considerations to help reduce the potential for unintended impacts on specific communities, and they allow us to remedy any impact before we launch new technology. As an example, ahead of the US election, we put temporary measures in place to make it harder for people to come across misinformation or violent content, and our teams used model cards to ensure appropriate ML models were used to help protect the election, while also ensuring our enforcement was fair and did not have disproportionate impact on any one community.

Over the next 18 months we plan to expand this program, helping every team across Instagram use these cards to build fairness into every step of the technology we develop, and reduce potential impacts on underserved communities.

Promoting fairness on the platform through our technology and automated systems

Throughout our research, a recurring theme was that people wanted more transparency into how our systems work and how decisions around content are made. People felt that their account growth and/or engagement had been impacted in a way that they did not understand. People sometimes referred to this impact as “shadowbanning.” We heard from our conversations with people that this was most often tied to:

  • Lack of understanding on why people may be getting fewer likes or comments than before;
  • Perceptions that our decisions and policies do not consider the cultural and/or historical nuances of different communities’ lived experiences;
  • Confusion around our enforcement, either feeling like certain communities were held to a standard that other communities were not, or that our systems took down content without clear explanation.
  • Technical issues, which some may have perceived as forms of suppression.

Our research has given us a deeper understanding of why perceptions of bias exist, laying the foundation for the tools and products with more transparency baked in. This includes tools to provide more transparency around any restrictions on a person’s account or if their reach is being limited, as well as actions they can take to remediate. We also plan to build direct in-app communication to inform people when bugs and technical issues may be impacting their content. In the coming months, we'll share more details on these new features.

Using Instagram to create more opportunities for economic empowerment

Throughout the course of the pandemic, marginalized communities have been disproportionately impacted – from having inequitable access to healthcare, being faced with job losses and much more. So much of this is rooted in institutional and systemic racism, and requires that we work together as a society to address. Across Facebook and Instagram, we want to use our platform to help close gaps wherever possible. On addressing health disparities, this means we’re working closely with our health teams to help ensure we’re connecting people with accurate resources on vaccine safety, eligibility, and availability.

More generally, we know that Black people globally have often not had the same access to economic opportunities. While we cannot solve institutional and systemic racism we see in society on our own, we can explore opportunities to help close these gaps on Instagram especially when it comes to supporting Black businesses and creators. We kicked off this work last year, committing $25M to Black creators across Facebook and Instagram, and as part of this investment we launched a new program to equip the next generation of Black creators with the funding and resources to succeed on and off-line. Additionally, we launched a #BuyBlack sticker in Stories to help people identify and support Black-owned businesses, and in the coming months will roll out new product features to help people discover and amplify Black-owned businesses and build specific features to help people find Black-owned businesses on Instagram, while also working to protect them from potentially hurtful interactions.

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Our team shows up every day to improve the experiences of marginalized communities on Instagram. Our research over the past year has helped us to better recognize and understand, but we know there will always be more work to do in this space. We’ll continue working tirelessly to help make sure everyone on the platform feels safe to express themselves, empowered by our tools, and supported by Instagram.

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