Instagram will survey US users about race to assess if it is ‘fair and equitable’

·3-min read

Instagram announced today that it will start prompting a random assortment of people on its platform in the United States to participate in an optional survey about their race and ethnicity. The company says the survey will help it better understand different experiences people may have on Instagram in order to ensure that the platform is fair and inclusive for all users.

The prompt leads to a survey hosted by YouGov, an international research group that specializes in securely running surveys, Instagram says. The de-identified and encrypted responses will be split into parts stored across Instagram's partner research institutions. The social media giant is working with Oasis Labs, Texas Southern University, University of Central Florida and Northeastern University.

Instagram says this information will allow it to better understand the experiences different communities have on its app. The survey is also designed to help Instagram determine how its technology may impact different groups and if there are any changes that it can make to promote fairness. For instance, Instagram says analysis conducted from the survey could be used to better understand how its ranking system impacts different communities.

The company stresses that the survey is optional and not required. Instagram is also reassuring users that it will not tie their survey responses back to their accounts. Instagram, YouGov and the partner universities don't have the ability to link responses back to Instagram accounts. Instagram also notes that the survey won't limit the experience that you have on Instagram and won't change your reach or how people engage with your content.

"We know that groups that have been historically marginalized disproportionally contribute to creativity, to pushing culture forward," Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a video about the announcement. "So it's in our interest to make sure that Instagram is as great an experience as it can be for all communities. And one key thing here is race. And race is complicated, but if we're going to make sure that Instagram is fair and equitable as an experience, we need to understand how it's working for different communities."

U.S. users on Instagram will start seeing the survey beginning today. Instagram says the survey will appear on its app over the next few months.

Today's announcement comes two years after Instagram's equity and inclusion team said it would study how Black and other minority users in the U.S. are affected by its algorithm. At the time, Mosseri had said Instagram was aware of concerns about whether the platform suppresses Black voices.

Instagram attempted to address some of these concerns earlier this year when it rolled out enhanced tags to ensure that Black and underrepresented creators receive credit for their work. The company had said the enhanced tags allow users to share and view a creator’s specific contribution to a photo or video post. The introduction of the tags followed content strikes by Black creators who have said they don’t receive credit for their work online.

The launch of the survey also comes a week after the Department of Justice reached a settlement with Meta over allegations that it targeted users with housing ads based on factors such as race, national origin and sex, which are characteristics protected under the Fair Housing Act. Given that Instagram's new race survey will only run in the U.S., it's possible that today's announcement is related to regulatory pressures, the threat of which looms from the housing ads case. In addition, Instagram users' concerns related to race also aren't U.S.-specific, but Instagram's sole focus on the U.S. for the survey further indicates that it's looking to alleviate regulatory pressures in some ways with this new project.

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