Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Tens of millions of stories disappeared from Instagram last week.

While the stories were from different parts of the world, they shared a common theme: protests against injustice, including posts about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, protests in Colombia, and unrest in East Jerusalem.

(Previous: MMIWG movement erased online)

Because of the common theme, people said the social posts removal was a deliberate action by Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Instagram says that’s not so.

May 5 was national awareness day for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the United States and red dress day in Canada. To bring attention to the issue, friends, family and supporters posted stories, posters, thousands of photos of missing or murdered loved ones, and messages of consolation and hope. Much of that disappeared beginning Wednesday evening and continuing into Thursday.

Instagram described the problem as a global technical issue that affected re-shared posts, as well as archive and highlight functions. It said the issue had nothing to do with any one country or topic, and was not related to any hashtag used or specific content.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram said in a tweet on Thursday, “Many people thought we were removing their content because of what they posted or what hashtag they used, but this bug wasn’t related to the content itself, but rather a widespread issue that has now been fixed.”

“People around the world - from Colombia to East Jerusalem - use our platform to share what’s happening. We know it was a really bad experience. Ultimately I'm accountable for Instagram's stability, so I own this. I’m very sorry,” he said.

“This also happened around National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This day is incredibly important to raise awareness of this critical issue and support our Indigenous community on Instagram,” Mosseri tweeted.

“We apologize to all those who felt like they could not bring attention to these incredibly important causes, and many others around the world. Helping people express themselves and raise awareness on the conversations they care about is at the heart of Instagram,” he said.

The company also issued a more detailed apology. In a prepared statement it explained why the erasures affected some materials but not others.

“Given the incredibly sensitive conversations that were taking place across social media, we wanted to make sure we got people clear answers and resolutions as quickly as possible,” the statement read.

“Here’s what we discovered.

“Just after midnight on May 6, our automated systems launched an update intended to better detect whether reshared media in a story was still available. This check is important because, when working as intended, if someone can no longer see the reshared media (in case it was deleted or archived), the story itself gets deleted because we do not share content that someone has removed. This impacted stories created starting Wednesday, and carried on until about 3 a.m. (PT) on Thursday. For Highlights and Archive, it impacted all posts containing reshares that were created before Thursday morning. Unfortunately the update resulted in our systems treating all unshared media posted before midnight as missing. Part of the reason that it took us such a long time to figure out what was taking place was because this had been an automated deployment, and we had to comb through every possibility.”

Instagram continued, saying, “The two countries who faced the biggest impact were the United States and Brazil. All content has now been restored.”

“We are so sorry this happened. Especially to those in Colombia, East Jerusalem, and Indigenous communities who felt this was an intentional suppression of their voices and stories—that was not our intent whatsoever.”

This Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, file photo shows the Instagram app icon on the screen of a mobile device in New York. Facebook says it’s going to test out, again, an option for users to hide those “like” counts to see if it can reduce the pressure of being on social media. Instagram, which Facebook owns, will soon allow a small group of random users to decide whether or not they want to see the number of likes their posts and those of others receive. While at first this option will only be on Instagram, the social media giant says it's also exploring the feature for Facebook. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Twitter responses ranged from skepticism to appreciation for the explanation and apology.

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