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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.

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