Oct 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The liberal election is happening on Instagram

Illustration of the Instagram logo with a Democrat donkey at center

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

While Facebook continues to take heat over being a tinderbox for conservative media, data shows that liberal, civically engaged voices are winning out on Instagram — and the engagement is even higher there than on Facebook.

Why it matters: The politics playing out on Instagram reflect a younger, more progressive generation. Many have left Facebook to their parents.

What's going on: A range of data from the Facebook-owned social media metrics platform CrowdTangle shows that liberal-leaning messaging flourishes on Instagram and that the top accounts generate even more engagement than on Facebook.

  • There was 36% more engagement on the top 50 accounts posting about "Black Lives Matter" on Instagram versus Facebook in the past 30 days, and nearly 3x as much about "climate change."
  • By contrast, interactions on the top accounts that used "Make America Great Again" were more than twice as high on Facebook compared to Instagram during the same period.
  • There is also more civic engagement on Instagram: Top posts for "register to vote" generated 14x more interactions on Instagram than Facebook during this time.
Data: CrowdTangle; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: CrowdTangle; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Be smart: Facebook has taken heat over the fact that many of its most-engaged accounts belong to right-wing voices. Four of the five Facebook accounts with the most engagement over the past month belong to President Trump, Fox News, Breitbart and Ben Shapiro, per CrowdTangle data.

  • Instagram, which was invented 10 years ago specifically with a focus on culture and creators, has a list of top accounts that is dominated by sports, entertainment, meme and celebrity accounts — not politics. But a handful of top accounts have a strong liberal perspective despite not being explicitly political.
  • The Shade Room, which frequently pushes anti-Trump messages, generated 276 million interactions over the last month — 4x more than Fox News on Facebook.
  • The Instagram account Feminist has generated 46% more interactions than Fox News on Facebook.

Yes, but: It's worth noting that CrowdTangle doesn't measure engagement from personal pages — only interactions on posts from pages that belong to public figures, groups, publishers, companies, etc. Its data represents only part of what's actually shared and engaged with, but it helps to spotlight major trends across both platforms.

The big picture: The 50 biggest voices on Instagram generated 4x more engagement than the 50 biggest on Facebook over the last month. And these numbers don't even include the massive engagement that Instagram Stories generate.

There are major differences in how the two platforms are used, which contribute to the prevailing political attitudes.

  • On Facebook, link posts and hard news dominate, while on Instagram, hashtags get more traction. And political commentary on Instagram often happens through photoshops, edited videos and original graphics rather than reactions to headlines.
  • "Facebook leans more into hard news," Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said in an interview with Axios on Oct. 5. Mosseri notes that Facebook includes the ability to post links to stories that take users offsite.
  • "Social movements definitely exist on Instagram," he said. "The platform lends itself more naturally to individual voices rather than news organizations."

Between the lines: A generational divide between the platforms helps to explain the political usage. While many younger voters maintain Facebook accounts, they spend more time and engage more deeply on Instagram.

Go deeper: Instagram morphs into an information powerhouse

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