Instagram is working on a version of its app that would show user posts in chronological order, as the app originally did.
Chief executive Adam Mosseri said that the change was coming during a Senate subcommittee where he was being examined over the protections Instagram provides to young users.
Such concerns were emphasized recently by the revelations of whistleblower Frances Haugen, who provided a trove of documents to a number of media organisations alleging that Instagram was harmful to the mental health and self-esteem of teenage girls and that Facebook (now Meta) had a VIP list that allowed high-profile users to break its rules.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” Ms Haugen has said. “Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimise for its own interests, like making more money.”
Mr Mosseri said that Instagram was “currently working on a version of a chronological feed that we hope to launch next year,” adding that it had been in development “for months.”
There will also be an option to add a “favourites” feed, which will prioritise friends’ posts higher than other content. Both feeds will, reportedly, be optional.
Instagram did not provide additional comment when asked by The Independent, instead pointing to tweets from its communications team.
Meta, and its subsidiaries Facebook and Instagram, have been historically against chronological feeds. In a blog post in June, Mr Mosseri said a chronological feed made it “impossible for most people to see everything, let alone all the posts they cared about.”
However, Meta’s algorithms have also been consistently criticized for promoting extreme content. A 2018 presentation within the company, leaked last year, showed that it knew its algorithm encouraged divisiveness but moves to stop it would be “antigrowth” and require “a moral stance”.
Its algorithms “exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” the presentation warned, adding, that if action was not taken Facebook would provide users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”
At the time Meta said the leaked document, and subsequent reporting, did not account for changes that limited Pages and Groups that breached Facebook’s standards or shared fake news.
“One of the biggest issues social networks face is that, when left unchecked, people will engage disproportionately with more sensationalist and provocative content”, Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post in 2018. “At scale it can undermine the quality of public discourse and lead to polarization. In our case, it can also degrade the quality of our services.
“Our research suggests that no matter where we draw the lines for what is allowed, as a piece of content gets close to that line, people will engage with it more on average – even when they tell us afterwards they don’t like the content.”