#wahlfilter: How political is Instagram? – digital

The #wahlfilter project has been underway for a month, with which SZ and its partner Algorithm Watch want to learn more about the Instagram algorithm ahead of the federal election. The research should clarify whether the social network prefers certain content or certain politicians, if the user flow is distorted in one or the other political direction.

Over 100,000 data donations have already been received, over 700 people are participating and supporting the research (learn more about the project here). We would be happy if you would join us as well – the more participants there are, the more meaningful our results will be. The project will run until July.

This is how it works :

Install a small software tool on your computer (not on your smartphone): a browser plug-in for Firefox (link for installation) or Chrome (link for installation), depending on which browser you prefer. It collects the relevant data for the #selectionfilter on Instagram – and only that. Log into Instagram once in the desktop browser, even if it is unfamiliar to you, so that the plugin and Instagram account can contact you. And then follow three of the 100+ total politicians that the plugin will randomly suggest to you.

And now? You can just use Instagram on your mobile phone as usual and every time you turn on the computer and the plug-in is active, data is given. (Hence the request: When you’ve installed the plug-in, occasionally start your browser of choice and leave the #selectionfilter window open in Firefox.) In the weeks and months to come, we want to hear from you. with your help how often do stories, photos and videos of these people appear in your timeline and whether any distortions can be seen depending on the political orientation.

We have received questions on this and a number of other topics related to the project, which we will be happy to answer here. If you would like to learn more about the #wahlfilter or participate in our survey, just take a look at our project page sz.de/wahlfilter. Here the process of finding data and installing plugins are explained in more detail and in videos. do you have any other questions? Then write to us at dierecherche@sz.de.

Questions about the #selection filter

I would love to participate, but I am wary of installing something like this. What exactly is going on there?

With the browser plug-in, we can record for our data research what content from which politicians appear in your timeline. (For Firefox users, we also collect suggested content on the Explore page.) It works because the plugin “checks” Instagram at regular intervals. You only need to log into Instagram once in the desktop browser, otherwise you can use the app as normal. As long as the plugin is active, you are giving data no matter if and how often you scroll through your Instagram feed. You don’t need to reopen the plugin or Instagram itself.

What you do on Instagram is up to you. Your data is sent to Algorithm Watch in encrypted form and cannot be traced back to you personally. On the one hand, only information without personal reference is collected, on the other hand only what appears in your timeline or the exploration page. Who you follow, what you watch, who you communicate with is not recorded by the plug-in. The information is transmitted to a database which only employees of our partner Algorithm Watch can access. They share the information only with the SZ and only for this special evaluation of the data.

Is the plug-in also available for cell phones – or for other browsers?

Unfortunately no. The plug-in was developed for the most frequently used browsers, which together have a market share of over 60%. To keep the technical effort for the project manageable, our Algorithm Watch partners limited themselves to the desktop versions, as otherwise countless variations for different cell phone models and operating systems would have been required.

An integration into the Instagram app itself is prohibited, otherwise we would be forced to cooperate with Facebook. This defeats the purpose of research, the results of which and their publication to the company are unlikely to be of interest.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t participate if you – like most users – only use Instagram on your smartphone. You only have to install the plugin once on the desktop and log in once to Instagram through the desktop browser. You can then use the social network as usual, however you want and where you want. Even if you never open it again, it won’t affect your data donation.

How can a desktop browser plug-in communicate with the Instagram app I am using on my mobile phone?

The plug-in is not communicating with your smartphone. Your use of Instagram on your mobile phone and the plug-in data collection work independently of each other. That’s why you only need to log into Instagram once on your desktop to participate in the project.

What the plug-in then does: It automatically opens Instagram in your browser of choice, scrolls through your feed, and records whether the politicians you were offered are listed there. After this process, the plug-in automatically closes the window. This process should not interfere with your use of Instagram, nor will you be “watched” by the plugin as you scroll. Communication between your smartphone and the desktop browser is simply not necessary.

Will the data only be given when I use Instagram on my PC?

No, you can use Instagram as usual in the smartphone app. After installing the plug-in and once logged into Instagram on your desktop, it automatically saves your data through the browser. As long as the plug-in is active, the data will now be collected, even if you are lying on the sofa with your mobile phone.

Why does a window open after installing the plug-in that I shouldn’t close?

In this window, the plugin will open Instagram at irregular intervals and search for the three politicians you are following for the project. You may notice this window from time to time and notice movement in it. Don’t worry, the plug-in will collect your donation data.

Can I silence the contributions of the three politicians – or will that skew the result?

In this way, the result is actually spoofed because the contributions then do not appear in your feed as usual and cannot be saved. So we ask that you follow exactly the three selected people for the duration of the data search until mid-July and tolerate their posts in your timeline – or just ignore them.

What if I don’t like the proposed politicians and don’t want them in my feed every day?

It’s understandable that nasty messages are boring – but you’ve got to go through that now. Think of it as a temporary extension of your filter bubble, including new perspectives. We will notify you when the data collection phase is complete. This should be ready around mid-July. Then you can stop following politicians again. Until then, if in doubt, just scroll down the page.

Is there an alternative without signing up on Instagram? So far, I have successfully refused to register there.

You can of course also just follow the #wahlfilter project as a reader. However, if you want to contribute yourself, you need an Instagram account. Without it you cannot donate data and we cannot save data, after all this is the deepest core of Instagram itself, its algorithm. Information that is relevant to the #selection filter is not transmitted by Facebook in any other way.

So if you don’t want the Facebook group, to which Instagram belongs, to have access to your data and therefore do without an Instagram account, that’s understandable. If you would like to support the #wahlfilter despite these concerns, please rest assured that SZ and Algorithm Watch are placing more importance on data protection as part of the project than usual with the companies we are researching here. It might be a compromise to create a profile for the duration of the project and then delete it again, i.e. around mid-July. As a reminder: you do not have to actively use it to participate in the project.

I’m not particularly active on Instagram – is it still worth participating?

Yes, we also look forward to your data donation. Even if you don’t follow a lot of accounts or post anything yourself, your input can be invaluable. After all, this is also the case under real conditions: some users follow many accounts, others few. Mapping this into our experience even helps us get closer to Instagram reality. And even if you don’t use Instagram “politically” and haven’t followed any politicians or parties there yet, your contribution is useful for data evaluation.

What data is collected – and is it also collected on all devices?

All data collected by the plug-in is stored under a pseudonym. It is not possible for us to trace it back to you as a person or on behalf of your Instagram account. What we record: which browser you use, which politicians you follow during the project, whether you have had “contacts” with them – that is, whether they appeared in your feed – and, if so , Whatever.

If you participate through Firefox, we also record the contributions suggested to you on the Explore page. This is the page that appears on the smartphone app when you select the magnifying glass symbol: unlike the normal feed, you don’t see the content of the accounts you follow, but of the accounts that the algorithm assumes are you might like. We do not save the personal data of you or your friends. In addition, the plug-in does not communicate with your smartphone, but only with your browser in which you have installed it.

You can read even more details about the project and more about data protection from our partner Algorithm Watch. Here you will find everything about data protection at SZ.

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