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Instagram morphs into an information powerhouse

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 benefittingfrom 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.

  • Instagrams 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.

In photos: Fortified capitols see only small protests

Small groups of protesters rallied outside fortified statehouses over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some rallies attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as officials took security steps to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, per AP.

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Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December pardon spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

  • Those set to be pardoned before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice and people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

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Members of House and Senate fear for their safety away from a hardened Capitol

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.
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Off the rails: Trump mainlines election conspiracies as Oval Office descends into madness

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 3: The conspiracy goes too far. Trump's outside lawyers plot to seize voting machines and spin theories about communists, spies and computer software.

President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."

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Convicts turn to D.C. fixers as they seek pardons from President Trump

A flood of convicted criminals has retained lobbyists since November’s presidential election to press President Trump for pardons or commutations before he leaves office.

What we're hearing: Among them is Nickie Lum Davis, a Hawaii woman who pleaded guilty last year to abetting an illicit foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low. Trump confidante Matt Schlapp also is seeking a pardon for a former biopharmaceutical executive convicted of fraud less than two months ago.

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Conservatives plot to punish the tech industry for deplatforming Trump

Capitol Hill conservatives are gaming out a multi-front war on the tech industry as retribution for deplatforming President Trump and others on the right, congressional sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: When you're in the minority, you figure out who you are as a party. With Republicans now looking up at the Democrats, they're searching for a unifying issue. This is one, at least for now.

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Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence

Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence.

Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.

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