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This week in politics on Instagram: Breitbart vs. ‘Feminist’


Every Tuesday in the run up to the Nov. 3, 2020 election, Mashable will break down the most viral posts about politics on Instagram. Using data from the Facebook-owned analytics service CrowdTangle, we’ll show you the topics and perspectives on Instagram that the most people are talking about and engaging with. Our hope is that this provides a look at what’s dominating the political conversation in social media spaces that you might not see otherwise. 

While it’s clear that prompts Facebook users to click and comment, what makes a post “viral” on Instagram isn’t as well understood. Instagram also has a of over 37 percent of U.S. adults, with particularly engaged. What’s more, that Instagram may have played a bigger role in the 2016 election than Facebook for Russian operatives, and predicted that it would be central to similar efforts this fall.

This week in politics, what are people outside of your social media bubble talking about on Instagram? Here’s what you need to know. 

Every week, Trump, Biden, and various celebrities posting selfies with the word “vote” in their captions dominate the Instagram engagement charts. But if America is a place of dreams, then politics Instagram is a place of memes. 

Two accounts on opposite sides of the political spectrum consistently get some of the highest engagement, which means the most likes, comments, and shares. One of them is right-wing website Breitbart. The account has 994,000 Instagram followers, and its posts are typically meme-like recreations of articles, with heavy black text posted over images.

The other account is simply called Feminist. It posts memes supporting LGBTQ and women’s rights, and criticizing the Trump campaign. It’s not clear who actually runs Feminist, but the account’s info says it’s based in the U.S. (be careful with your information sources, people!) Still, it has 5.4 million followers (over five times Breitbart’s), and it was the seventh most popular account on Instagram last week — right behind Breitbart. Over the past month, Feminist was the twelfth most engaged with account, while Breitbart was the fourth.

So what makes these two accounts so popular? With under 1 million followers, Breitbart is playing a bit of a numbers game. It published the most politically themed posts — 63 — of all the other posters in the top 10. 

Fewer of Feminist’s posts are “political,” but those that are get massive engagement, in the realm of hundreds of thousands of likes, which is partially what rockets them to the top of the charts. 

One thing the two accounts have in common is that they receive thousands of comments. But those comments look very different. On Breitbart, they frequently reaffirm the headline memes, recently trumpeting Hunter Biden’s supposed corruption, or excoriating the media and social media companies. 

Feminist posts often get ten times as many likes as Breitbart posts do, but their comment sections are full of dissent. Conservative users comment to criticize the content of the posts and liberals in general. Liberal followers fight back, and the flame war grows. 

Why compare these two accounts? Because what they have in common shows that politics content on Instagram is more similar to Facebook than we might think. We know that Facebook favors polarizing content as it selects the posts to display in the News Feed. Highly emotional or inflammatory content also draws likes and comments on Instagram. But with Fox News and Breitbart dominating the engagement charts — with an unknown account called Feminist as their closest liberal competition — it looks pretty clear who’s doing the flaming.

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