Instagram's chronological feed is finally back

  • Instagram is bringing back its chronological feed, which it got rid of in 2016.

  • The app has been using an engagement-based ranking, which has become controversial.

  • The algorithm has been found to prioritize divisiveness, violence, and misinformation.

Instagram is bringing back a chronologically-ordered feed option, its parent company Meta said Wednesday, after years of user outcry to bring back the popular feature.

"We want you to be able to shape Instagram into the best possible experience, and giving you ways to quickly see what you're most interested in is an important step in that direction,"the company said in a blog post.

The app will also introduce a "favorites" feed, it said.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri first said the time-ordered option could come back at a Congressional hearing in December 2021. The app changed to engagement-based photos rankings in users' feeds in 2016.

"We've been focusing for a few years now on how to give people more control over their experience, like favorites, which puts accounts you favorite at the top of your feed," Mosseri told senators during a hearing about protecting kids online. "Another we've been working on for months is a chron feed. I wish I had a specific month to give you, but right now we're aiming for early next year."

Engagement-based rankings order content based on how likely users are expected to interact with those posts. Mosseri said at the hearing that engagement-based rankings are a way to connect people with the content that they might find most appealing.

But they've become a contentious topic as critics say they've helped spawn clickbait articles or stories that news outlets write to hook readers' attention. And engagement-based rankings have also been found to prioritize violent, toxic, false, and politically divisive content.

Engagement-based ranking can also lead to days-old posts surfacing in the app instead of new content, frustrating users.

Instagram and its parent company, Facebook (now called Meta), have specifically fielded criticism over their algorithms.

Former employee-turned whistleblower Frances Haugen shared documents with the press and Congress that revealed, among other things, that Facebook employees were concerned that an algorithm change would promote sensationalistic content. An internal memo showed that Facebook made the change because people were using the app less.

Facebook, now known as Meta, has disputed many takeaways from the trove of documents, saying they don't fully encompass its efforts to combat bad actors and promote mental health.

When Instagram swapped its chronological feed for an algorithmic one in 2016, it said, "the order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you'll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we're focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order."

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