Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Instagram is in the midst of a transformation — what was once the place to share photos of food and social outings is quickly becoming a hub for information and advocacy.

Why it matters: Text, infographics and topical illustrations are exploding on Instagram as the pandemic and racial justice movement brought purpose and focus to its millions of users, supercharging the urgency to get educated and share useful information.

The big picture: 2020 has been a perfect storm for this change: The pandemic put an end to all the fun that users typically posted, while also creating a pressing need for reliable health information.

  • The information ecosystems on Twitter and Facebook are well entrenched, leaving many people — particularly the younger-skewing Instagram crowd — to seek a new place to operate. And then in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's killings, it was primed not just for information, but activism.

"Instagram felt like a place for a clean, fresh start," Mosheh Oinounou, a digital consultant and former TV news producer, tells Axios.

  • Oinounou over the past few months has created an informational Instagram, pulling in all of the latest headlines, numbers and fact checks about the pandemic.
  • "The summer of 2020 has been a time where Instagram Stories especially seem like a place where people are increasingly turning to charts, infographics, quotes and headlines because they feel overwhelmed by the news," he said.

By the numbers: Accounts that have leaned into this trend have seen their growth skyrocket.

Larger publishers are also benefitting from the trend. @ProPublica, which had already been posting text-centric information, saw 70% follower growth in the last 6 months, almost all coming since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, according to CrowdTangle data.

  • This trend is altering publisher strategy as well: Refinery29 (2.4m followers) went from 41% text-based info posts in January to 72% in July, according to an Axios analysis, while Business Insider (2.3m) went from 5% to 48%.

Between the lines: A key shift in how information on Instagram spreads came in mid-2018, when the app allowed users to share posts from the feed to their Stories, unlocking a 1-to-many share mechanism that allowed posts to get massive audiences.

  • Instagram doesn't have a traditional share button to drive virality like other major social networks.
  • "That feature has been integral to the way that this information is able to travel," says Jen Winston who runs the progressive, info-centric @jenerous.

What to watch: As information and opinion become a bigger part of the Instagram experience, it could run into the same problems with disinformation that have plagued other major social networks — including Facebook, which owns Instagram.

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Jul 16, 2020 - Technology

Facebook to label posts about voting from presidential candidates

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook announced Thursday that it will add labels to all posts from presidential and congressional candidates and federally-elected officials that mention voting or ballots, regardless of whether they contain misinformation.

Why it matters: It's the tech giant's response to scrutiny that it doesn't do enough to tackle voter suppression on its platform. Earlier this year, Facebook — unlike Twitter — did not take action against posts from President Trump that included false information about mail-in voting.

Pelosi, Schumer demand postmaster general reverse USPS cuts ahead of election

Schumer and Pelosi. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Thursday calling for the recent Trump appointee to reverse operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service that "threaten the timely delivery of mail" ahead of the 2020 election.

Why it matters: U.S. mail and election infrastructure are facing a test like no other this November, with a record-breaking number of mail-in ballots expected as Americans attempt to vote in the midst of a pandemic.

CRISPR co-discoverer on the gene editor's pandemic push

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Brian Ach/Getty Images for Wired and BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the development of CRISPR-based tests for detecting disease — and highlighting how gene-editing tools might one day fight pandemics, one of its discoverers, Jennifer Doudna, tells Axios.

Why it matters: Testing shortages and backlogs underscore a need for improved mass testing for COVID-19. Diagnostic tests based on CRISPR — which Doudna and colleagues identified in 2012, ushering in the "CRISPR revolution" in genome editing — are being developed for dengue, Zika and other diseases, but a global pandemic is a proving ground for these tools that hold promise for speed and lower costs.