Trying to Make Your Social Media Content Accessible? Meta’s Not Making It Easy
Author: Melanie Mudge
Social media accessibility has a problem: Not very many people know about it. That’s slowly—glacially—changing, but it seems that for every content creator, marketer, or influencer who is aware of it, there are thousands who aren’t. Which means that massive numbers of inaccessible posts are being generated every single day, leaving disabled folks with no way to join the conversation.
But that’s not even the worst of it. For those who are trying to make their social media content accessible (kudos!), the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, Meta, is making it really hard.
Don’t get us wrong, they have added some accessibility options to their platforms and interfaces, but they’ve either made them really hard to find, not actually all that accessible, or simply worthless because they don’t actually work. Let’s walk through the process to get an idea of just how many hoops a user has to jump through in order to make their content accessible on Facebook and Instagram.
How Social Media Accessibility Should Work
Sometimes it’s hard to understand how broken something is if it’s never actually worked that way and there aren’t any good examples of how it should work. So let us paint the picture.
If social media platforms prioritized accessibility, the process would look like this:
- You upload your image, video, or article.
- The platform recognizes your post type and prompts you to add:
- alt text if it’s an image or article; or
- captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions if it’s a video.
- The platform guides you through the process, offering helpful tips about what is accessible and what’s not (i.e. contrast, style, size, etc.).
- The platform only offers you options that are accessible.
- The desktop experience is similar to the mobile app experience.
- You hit post or schedule.
It’s really that simple. As you’ll see, the process is nowhere near that straightforward and requires many “hacks” to actually make posts accessible.
How Accessibility Actually Works on Meta Platforms
It turns out that explaining how it works is not so straightforward as there are several methods for posting, different post types, two different platforms, and a desktop and mobile experience for each. Whew! So we’ve broken it down by accessibility type, then by each of the Meta interfaces.
Adding Alt Text to Images
Desktop: Choose the “Edit” button in the upper lefthand corner, choose “Alternative Text,” then scroll down past the default option to use their AI generated alt text, and select “Custom Alt Text.”
Mobile: Choose the 3 dots in the upper righthand corner, then choose “Edit Alt Text” in the menu that pops up from the bottom. Note: For link previews, you must add alt text to your caption, as link previews do not have an alt text option.
Desktop: Choose the “Accessibility” dropdown on the caption editing screen to reveal the place to add your alt text. Note: This does have a short description of what alt text is, but it also mentions that alt text will automatically be generated if you don’t enter your own, which likely discourages many users from taking the time to write their own.
Mobile: Choose “Advanced Settings” at the bottom of the caption editing screen, then scroll all the way down to “Accessibility” and choose “Write Alt Text.”
Desktop: Choose the pencil button next to the image, then select “Alt Text” in the new screen. Note: Unfortunately, as of this writing, this doesn’t actually work. For some reason, your alt text doesn’t post with your images and instead AI-generated alt text gets included, which, as evidenced by the real example below, is neither accurate nor useful.
Meta-generated alt text: Photo by Scribely on April 05, 2023. May be an image of outdoors.”
Scribely-generated alt text: “Side profile of a classic early ‘60s Volkswagen Beetle in sunset orange with white wall tires parked in front of a peony pink moss-covered stone building in Greece with long daytime shadows stretching across the frame.”
Mobile: Alt text is not currently available on the mobile app.
Conclusion: No wonder something as simple as alt text is not utilized by most Meta users. If it’s available at all, it’s hidden in obscure places that require several clicks to get to, it’s not consistent between platforms, and it’s simply left out altogether on Business Suite mobile.
Adding Captions/Subtitles to Reels
Desktop: Choose the “Edit” button in the upper lefthand corner, then choose the “Add Captions” dropdown. Upload your captions (.SRT) file. Note: This is the only way to add captions via desktop.
Mobile: Choose the Stickers button in the middle right, then select “Captions.” Let it attempt to auto-generate captions (it will struggle if the dialogue isn’t perfectly clear), then listen to the entire video to verify that they are correct. If not correct, tap “edit captions.”
Note: There is no option to upload or write your own instead of relying on the auto-captions. In addition, only the fourth caption style they offer is truly accessible and only if users know to add a solid background to it.
Desktop: It is not currently possible to add stylized captions to Reels via desktop. Instead, choose “Accessibility” on the caption editing screen and turn on the toggle for “Auto-generated captions.” Note: Auto-generated captions aren’t editable and are currently only available when viewing on the mobile app.
Mobile: Choose the Stickers button in the top right, then select “Captions.” Let it attempt to auto-generate captions (it will struggle if the dialogue isn’t perfectly clear), then listen to the entire video to verify that they are correct. If not correct, tap on them to edit.
Note: Again, there is no option to upload or write your own instead of relying on the auto-captions. In addition, only the third and fourth caption styles they offer are truly accessible and only if users know to add a solid background to them.
Desktop: Does not offer stylized captions nor the ability to upload a .SRT file. Thus, the only way to add captions would be to manually add text and time each line out yourself.
Mobile: Does not offer any captioning. Thus, the only way to add captions would be to manually add text and time each line out yourself.
Conclusion: This is way too all over the place. Sometimes you can edit auto-generated captions, sometimes you can’t. Auto-captions can only be viewed on mobile. The only place to add a .SRT file is on Facebook desktop, and Facebook desktop doesn’t offer any other options. No wonder so many don’t even bother with captions when it’s this confusing!
Adding Audio Description for Reels
Desktop: No options available.
Mobile: Choose the button with musical notes in the top middle, then choose “Voiceover” to record audio descriptions of what is happening on screen during the pauses. Note: If the video doesn’t contain enough pauses, the user would have to take it upon themselves to duplicate the video and start and stop it long enough to add in audio descriptions.
Desktop: No options available.
Mobile: Choose “Audio” on the right, then tap “Add Voiceover” in the menu that pops up from the bottom. Note: Voiceover is not available when adding a video from the Home tab. It is only available in the Watch tab or the Profile tab.
Desktop: No options available.
Mobile: Choose “Audio” on the right, then tap “Add Voiceover” in the menu that pops up from the bottom.
Conclusion: Meta says they will be adding more functionality to Business Suite soon, which would be welcomed. In the meantime, not having Voiceover available on desktop is unacceptable, as many marketers and content creators prefer to use a computer for their work. Where it is available, it’s not easy to find.
Using Third-Party Social Media Schedulers
Let’s say you’ve decided not to deal with the chaos that is Meta but use a third-party scheduler like Buffer or Hootsuite instead. Guess what? Depending on which one you use, you may be able to add alt text for Facebook, but very few third-party schedulers have the ability to add alt text to Instagram (Sked Social is the only one at the time of writing). Why? Because of Instagram’s notoriously strict Application Programming Interface (API).
Without getting too into the technical side of it, Facebook (now Meta) had a huge data breach in 2018 (remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal?). In order to make it harder for bad actors to get a hold of users’ data in the future, they changed their API in ways that would hopefully make it more secure. But for some reason, it also made it nearly impossible for schedulers to add alt text.
So in order to have alt text for your Instagram images when using a third-party scheduler, you must either add them to your captions OR manually add the alt text to each post after it’s gone live.
As for adding auto-captions or audio description to videos, these are not capabilities that schedulers offer, so a user would have to add them in their video editing software.
Conclusion: Scheduling app users have to take many extra steps to make their content accessible, typically by using several different apps, depending on the type of post.
Yeah, We Haven’t Even Mentioned Transcripts
Did you know that including transcripts with videos is actually a video accessibility requirement as outlined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines? (If not, check out our article on video accessibility for more on that.) Despite that being true for many years now, there’s not a single social media platform that offers support for them.
These aren’t small companies with limited budgets we’re talking about here. These are global companies with billions of users. In Meta’s case, it’s a $500 billion company with around 5 billion monthly active users. They’ve had the opportunity to be trailblazers in this area for years, yet transcript support has yet to materialize.
Let Meta Know This Is Unacceptable
Accessibility was and continues to be an afterthought on Meta’s platforms. Instead of building their platforms with accessibility in mind, they add it in piecemeal and haphazardly. They are woefully—and knowingly—behind on meeting accessibility guidelines. Though other social companies at least have accessibility statements, Meta still doesn’t.
Unfortunately, Meta doesn’t seem to care about improving accessibility like they care about improving revenue-generating features (ads). The alt text option in Business Suite has been broken for a long time now—do they just not know about it? Or is it more likely that they just don’t care?
No platform can force users to make their content accessible, but if accessibility options are buried, hard to use, or simply broken, it’s all but guaranteed that the options won’t get utilized. And it seems that the only way to make Meta change this is to have an outpouring of feedback about how unacceptable the state of accessibility on their platforms is.
Will you help us do that? If you’re a Business Suite user, please use the Help Menu in the bottom left to send feedback. The more we can flood them with requests for improving accessibility options, the more they’ll listen. And whether or not you use Business Suite, please use your social profiles to show Meta how inadequate their accessibility options are and let them know it’s time for change.