If you’ve been reading me/following me for a while, you probably know I get a lot of traffic through Instagram, but that I’m getting increasingly annoyed at the platform’s censorship of (mostly) women, erotic artists and sex workers. After receiving what was basically a set of non-answers by Instagram, I decided to speak to artists that were actually affected by account deletion and shadowbanning – namely, the iconic Exotic Cancer.
The Latest Instagram Ban
For artist Exotic Cancer, the cons of being an erotic artist on Instagram are endless. “Instagram is now silencing erotic artists and those alike,” she says. In a recent article by TechCrunch, new changes to the Instagram algorithm and to its effects on certain account was revealed.
Now Instagram says, “We have begun reducing the spread of posts that are inappropriate but do not go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines.” That means if a post is sexually suggestive, but doesn’t depict a sex act or nudity, it could still get demoted. Similarly, if a meme doesn’t constitute hate speech or harassment, but is considered in bad taste, lewd, violent or hurtful, it could get fewer views.
Specifically, Instagram says, “this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore or hashtag pages,” which could severely hurt the ability of creators to gain new followers. The news came amidst a flood of “Integrity” announcements from Facebook to safeguard its family of apps revealed today at a press event at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters.TechCrunch
TechCrunch adds that there are still not many visual examples of sexually suggestive content – but some of the images released seem to hint at the fact that a picture of a man touching his penis is as sexually suggestive as a woman in her underwear. Of course, this caused an uproar: how about bikini models? How about underwear models? Is Instagram basically just censoring women?
Many of my fellow pole dancers claim they often receive dick picks, but than when reported those who send them don’t have their accounts deleted – and although I haven’t done an actual study on this, from word of mouth Instagram censorship seems to be affecting women more than men. One of my (male) Instagram followers told me:
“I follow plenty of guys who post lots of pics in their underwear (for reasons), and they’re not getting fucking banned. It’s pure sexism and discrimination against anyone they think might remotely be attached to sex work.”
To make things worse, now erotic artists, sex workers and adult performers are actually seeing their accounts being banned or deleted by the platform, some of these with followers in the millions, built organically in many years and used to promote their work. In short: when your account that you’ve spend years working on – and your main source of income – gets deleted, you are essentially screwed as an independent artist. Enter Exotic Cancer’s experience.
Who Is Exotic Cancer?
If you are a pole dancer, you probably follow Exotic Cancer already (and if you don’t, wtf are you doing, go follow her). But ICYMI, Exotic Cancer is an Aussie artist whose work is inspired by her five years working as a stripper. She is behind colourful, thought-provoking, weird and wonderful Instagram art that happens to hang over my couch in my living room/pole room – and she has been a major influence in my (and many of her followers’) understanding of the stripping world.
Exotic Cancer started her work on Instagram in December 2017, and counts over 225,000 followers at the time of writing. “I wanted a way to creatively express myself as a dancer and thought that creating an art page would be a good way to do so,” she says about the reasons that moved her to start up her Insta account.
The East London Strippers’ Collective recommended Exotic Cancer as one of the main accounts sex workers’ allies should follow. Having never worked in a strip club, for me her profile was crucial to understanding the dynamics of stripping work beyond the fetishised or judgemental portrayals of it you get through the media, entertainment or opinions of people who know very little about stripping but insist on speaking out about it. With her account, Exotic Cancer shines a light on a marginalised community and proves that feminism needs to take into account sex workers’ rights – and that the pole community needs to keep itself in check in terms of crediting and respecting strippers (see drawing below).
This is why artists like Exotic Cancer need to be on Instagram: far from ‘corrupting’ the online community, they educate people about realities they are not engaged with. Yet, Instagram has other plans.
Exotic Cancer’s Deleted (And Now Re-Activated) Account
As she recently documented through posts and stories on her back-up account, Exotic Cancer saw her account deleted by an incel who insisted in deleting porn performers’ accounts. The man, who goes by Omid online, subsequently apologised when he realised Exotic Cancer wasn’t a porn performer.
Exotic Cancer’s appeal through her back-up account resulted in a wave of support across her followers, who began using the “Report a problem” function to get her profile back up. A game of whack-a-mole followed, with her back-up account being prevented from posting, with the creation of a personal account and a Twitter account.
View this post on Instagram
Swipe left â¬…ï¸âž¡ï¸ // one of the things that worries me the most about building my account back up is reposting old content, I donâ€™t want to ruin my engagement for being repetitive. Pls accept recycled posts â™»ï¸ðŸ’— (I will still create new stuff too donâ€™t worry but Iâ€™ll be posting old stuff in between bc my posts NEED TO EXIST SOMEWHERE ðŸ”¥)
Luckily, after a week or so, Exotic Cancer’s original account was re-activated. “I had to send many appeals,” she says. “I got rejected but I just kept trying until I got it back. It was a frustrating process, but I didn’t give up.”
Exotic Cancer was personally affected by the ban: after building your account for so long, establishing a fan base and a customer base, a deletion like that can seriously hinder your success as a business and your ability to express yourself online.
“I felt like my art wasn’t taken seriously. It was a scary time, I was devastated,” she says. “It’s really unfair.”Exotic Cancer
How Can You Deal With Disabled Accounts?
Reactivating a deleted Instagram account seems far from easy, and artists are becoming increasingly hopeless about the process. In my community of pole dancers and sex-positive bloggers alone, many (me included) have created back-up accounts to have an outlet for promotion and self-expression in case we get banned.
“I don’t know how effective the ‘report a problem’ option is, but it can’t hurt,” says Exotic Cancer. “The best thing fans can do is just spread the word and help to recover as many lost followers as possible.”
The Problem With Instagram and Sex
Instagram seems to have adopted a puritan approach to content, preventing erotic artists or sex workers from promoting their accounts… and, by the looks of it, it appears it wants to prevent them from posting in the first place.
Although she isn’t certain, Exotic Cancer speculates that the Instagram ban may have something to do with the FOSTA/SESTA bill that passed a year ago (laws to prevent sex trafficking that might actually result in censoring of the Internet – read more here).
She says: “My work spreads if people share it. I can’t actually pay to promote or advertise my work, because it’s considered explicit.” She refers to the new policy of shadowbanning “inappropriate” content as “ridiculous”:
They need to be able to have NSFW filters on. Shadowbanning is not the right answer and will unfairly hurt a lot of creators.
According to Exotic Cancer, platforms should treat erotic artists “like every other artist”. She adds that “just because my art is considered erotic does not mean it should be punished,” and that:
Expression of all kinds is important. Nobody should feel like they can’t express themselves.Exotic Cancer
How To Help Artists Like Exotic Cancer
Exotic Cancer says “a lovely and supportive community who will still show their support no matter what,” is one of the positive outcomes of being a sex-positive artist on Instagram. She adds:
The best way to support any artist is to share their work. Engage with it. Like their posts, leave a comment. High engagement will benefit the creator, sharing their posts will help them continue to grow.
Exotic Cancer has partnered up with Be A Bimbo to raise awareness about Instagram’s increased censorship of women, erotic artists and sex workers. You can find the t-shirts for the campaign here and more info in the post below.
View this post on Instagram
Myself and @alicia_amira / @beabimbo have teamed up to help spread awareness and fight back against unfair censorship towards sex workers and those alike! As a part of this campaign we have created this limited edition cropped tee, available in pink or black. Every order comes with an exclusive mini print that is only available through this campaign. ðŸ’— 10% of every purchase will be donated to NSWP, Global Network of Sex Work Projects. To read more about their amazing work, visit: www.nswp.org. ðŸ™ðŸ» ðŸ’— Shirts are available from www.beabimbo.com / @beabimbo ðŸ˜ ðŸ’‹ #stopcensoringsluts
How Do I Know If I’ve Been Shadow-Banned?
Apparently, if your post doesn’t show up in the “Recent” category under the hashtags you’ve used, you have been shadow-banned. Some hashtags, like the uber-popular #sundaybumday one created by one of the world’s most famous pole dancers Michelle Shimmy, seems to have disappeared altogether and, if you use it, you might get a shadow-ban.
Concerns About Instagram
Recently, Instagram disabled the accounts of London-based show Fuck You Pay Me (a theatre production by strippers for strippers covered favourably across different media such as Dazed and The Evening Standard) and of sex-positive podcast and vlog ComeCurious. There is a fear in the sex-positive community that, no matter how artistic, educational or non-threatening their work is, they will be banned. I contacted Instagram with Exotic Cancer’s thoughts on her account’s issues, and with the sex positive community’s concerns – they declined to comment.
After tumblr announced a ban on NSFW content in December, the company seems to have faced a loss in viewers, with Forbes reporting: “Tumblr’s NSFW ban comes at great cost to the community and little gain to the company’s long-term prospects.”
Considering how beneficial Instagram has been for artists like Exotic Cancers, or even just for pole dancers looking for inspiration for videos and choreographies… one has to wonder where the sex positive community can go next.