When the Obama administration announced the legalization of same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015, reactions from Americans—positive and negative—rippled across social media.

This archive presents the announcements on Instagram and Twitter to highlight how the design of these platforms shapes the political discourse online.

On Instagram, click on “view all 6,828 comments” and subsequently “load more comments” to pull up the replies.

On Twitter, the available replies are presented in expanded form. To navigate into an archived version of a sub-thread, click on the date of the thread’s first post.

Twitter counts “10k” replies on the original tweet, however most of them are not accessible. With some patience, Instagram users can read through all 6,828 replies, however they are shown in reverse order, without timestamps or any indication of relationship in between each other.

Although Instagram is supposedly an image sharing platform, users seem to be much more willing to discuss their views in replies that would exceed Twitter’s character count limit. Twitter folds long threads, sometimes visually isolating discussions from the topic originally presented, and creating mini echo chambers.

The archive is marked by absence in varying ways across both platforms. When a user deletes a comment in Instagram, it vanishes without a trace. Twitter, in contrast, uses a “tweet unavailable” placeholder, a gesture which allows others to guess who has retracted a tweet. Changing your mind on Instagram has less potential for shame or the display of weakness, whereas on Twitter users are forced to stand their ground and have their guard up. Instagram lessens the importance of comments and speech by design, while on Twitter, each tweet can itself start a newly branching thread.

Over the past eight years, Twitter has become the de facto social media platform for public political discourse in the United States—and the vernacular that has emerged and defined that discourse is closely related to design choices made at a technical level. What this comparison reminds is that there is potential for new and different types of conversation through new and different decisions made about user interaction.

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