Instagram users are less interested in sharing political images

According to a study by researchers at the University of Missouri, users on the social platform Instagram are less likely to share political content, compared to other social platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. While there is quite a volume of users who share political images on Instagram, its significance for news organizations, in particular, is minimal, the findings suggest.

The study’s co-authors write: “Some users said they felt badly about ‘liking’ a photo of a tragedy while others said they turn to other sources when they seek serious news stories. Many people view Instagram as an oasis where they can escape from the troubles and concerns of everyday life.”

From the study’s data, researchers established three types of user groups: Optimists (uplifting and funny images), feature lovers (adventure and travel images), and news hounds (global culture and political images).

Based on the findings, researchers determined that simple, non-political images drew the most engagement from users. They also found images that were both aesthetically pleasing and empowering garnished more engagement.

“So news organizations might draw in more engagement from users if they post images that are representative of the story they’re telling, but are still friendly to the eye,” the findings detailed.

Moreover, researchers theorized several factors that contribute to the notion that Instagram is mostly a non-political social platform, affecting the engagement of posts. The following are three such factors.

  • People — the fewer the people in an image, the greater the likelihood that someone will comment on or like the photo. Moreover, posts with visible facial features are more likely to draw engagements.
  • Watermarks — images with watermarks, or stamps, noting the image creator were more unpopular than original content without markings.
  • Landmarks — participants were less likely to engage with posts that originated in their local community or featured recognizable landmarks, in favor of images showcasing exotic, unfamiliar locales.

The study was led by T.J. Thomson and Keith Greenwood, both researchers in the field of photojournalism, and published in Visual Communication Quarterly.