Instagram Denies Censorship of Pole Dancers and Sex Workers

Early this week I emailed Instagram to clarify the reasons behind the shadowban and censorship of pole dancers. Instagram has now come back to me, denying they are censoring pole dancers or sex workers. This post is about what they told me. If you want to read about what this means for social media for pole dancers and for users as a whole read my thoughts here.

Picture: Luke Van Zyl via Unsplash

My Questions to Instagram About The Shadowban and Censorship

I wanted to get to the bottom of this apparent increase in censorship, so I went straight to the source. Plus, I teach my journalism students to give the right to reply, so it’s only fair I practiced what I preach and gave Instagram the right to reply too.

Instagram only allow you to quote them on background, which means that I can’t quote directly and need to paraphrase. Considering many answers are quite vague, you’ll get my interpretation as a bonus. I asked Instagram these questions below, and the summary I have written in the next paragraphs leads from all they were willing to share (not much):

  1. Some of my readers pointed out that #femalefitness has been hidden, but #malefitness hasn’t. Does Instagram deem female fitness / the female body particular inappropriate and why? And if not, why were these posts hidden?
  2. These are the hashtags that are being hidden. Do you have any idea why they might have been affected?
  3. For the latest post we worked on together, you mentioned which posts Instagram deemed inappropriate. Many of the posts mentioned above however don’t include the actions/ parts you discussed, so why are they still being hidden?
  4. Instagram seems to be growing more conservative by the day, why is that? 
  5. Do the FOSTA/ SESTA laws have anything to do with the increase in hashtag censorship?
  6. Many queer and feminist brands have also lamented they can no longer use your platform to place ads – why is that?

Instagram Denies Censoring Specific Communities

Instagram told me they don’t show bias or engage in censorship of specific industries or communities. They said they only take action on content reported to them based on whether it adheres to their community guidelines and local law. 

My interpretation

I struggle to believe this considering how disproportionately the pole dance community, feminists, sex-positive educators and sex workers have been affected by Instagram censorship. However, this could also mean that there is a community out there hell bent on reporting all of us – like this article seems to suggest.

Instagram have reiterated the importance of community guidelines when it comes to censorship, stating that they want to look after their community of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs. In short, this is a strong no to NSFW filters or age-appropriate filters, which I think would actually improve everyone’s experience with the platform.

As I argue here, I think community guidelines should actually be replaced by clear laws about what you can and can’t post. Otherwise, each platform can make their own guidelines up and freedom of expression (or regulation when needed) won’t be fair. We might end up with either unnecessary censorship (like it’s happening now) or with actually dangerous content not being flagged. 

How The Increased Censorship of Pole Dance Hashtags Worked

Instagram told me they want to limit violating content from spreading on the platform while preserving hashtags at the same time. So they reiterated their ‘vaguely inappropriate content’ policy reported by TechCrunch, stating that they block both hashtags that violate their policies and restrict those that don’t violate policies but might be being used to share violating content.

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Picture by: lenneek on Unsplash

Interestingly, they told me that if they see a rising amount of violating content (such as nudity or spam) on a hashtag, they will shadowban it. Note that they never used the S word once with me, or the word censorship, but said they will temporarily remove the “Most Recent” section and only display “Top Posts” of the hashtag – which is what we call a shadowban. 

My interpretation

So here’s what might have happened with pole dance hashtags. Instagram told me they will also no longer show hashtags related to a shadowbanned hashtag. So what most likely happened then is that Instagram censored one “#pdsomethingsomething” hashtag, meaning that all the other #pd hashtags we use to look up moves have been affected by censorship as a result.

View this post on Instagram

ATTENTION POLE DANCERS! There seems to have been a massive “cleanse” on instagram and pole dancers have been deemed dirty and inappropriate… or as Instagram puts it we don’t “meet Instagram’s community guidelines”. There has been lots of talk about shadownbans lately but this purge of hashtags is hard to mistake as being targeted towards pole dancers. If you use a banned hashtag your posts will not show up in your intended feeds. If you continue to use banned hashtags it can result in your account being shadowbanned overall so that regardless of the hashtags used your posts won’t show up in your followers feeds. This is a list of some of the banned hashtags that I just quickly compiled this morning after seeing @polelols post about pdayesha being banned. The sad part is that these are many of our most popular hashtags and an integral part of OUR community! THESE HASHTAGS HAVE BEEN BANNED: * pddeadlift * Pdayesha * Pdstaticpole * Poledancing * Poledancer * Polesportorg * Unitedbypole * Poledancenation * Pdtwistedgrip * Pdironx * Sundaybumday * Pdshouldermount * Doublespole * Pddoubles * Pdcombo * Pdspinningpole * Pdtrick * Pdleghang * Pdoutsideleghang I’m sure there are many more than this. Be sure to check your hashtags before posting them. Tag your pole babes and mommas to alert them of this instagram development. So what now? Do we start a new system since our beloved PD system (started by @michelleshimmy ) seems to be under attack. I know @polefree saw the writing on the wall that this was coming and has been working on creating a new platform for us to share and develop our community. Thoughts? @poledancenation @poledancersofig @polesportorg @upartists

A post shared by Elizabeth ~ Instructor (@elizabeth_bfit) on

Sexy Brands Not Being Allowed To Advertise

Once again, Instagram pointed me to their Advertising Policies when I asked about brands not being allowed to monetise their content. They said that every single element of an ad’s components – e.g. image, caption, landing page, etc. – are evaluated against each of these policies. This means that if one of these elements are found in violation, they will not be shown on Instagram. 

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Picture by: prateekkatyal on Unsplash

My interpretation

Again, if you take FOSTA/SESTA into account, it is highly likely that something sexy will not make the cut. And although Instagram did refer to local law as a reason to take a post down, “local” in our day and age means very little. The concept of jurisdiction is still a contentious issue in social media law. With European accounts being deleted and/or shadowbanned and European brands not being able to advertise only after FOSTA/SESTA, the gist of things is that if something is inappropriate it might be because of FOSTA/SESTA. 

In the meantime, #femalefitness is still shadowbanned.

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How To Get In Touch With Instagram

For every brand there is a press team. I received a comment on my previous post where I summarised Instagram’s answers to me, alleging that I had made them up and that the platform doesn’t reply.

Of course the CEO of Instagram didn’t take the time to just drop me an email.

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All I did was submit my questions through press@instagram.com and got a reply from their press team. You can all do this. I am not special. Find their press email here and Instagram’s press page here.

So here we go: another set of non-specific answers. At the moment, all we can do is keep protesting about this, give the app bad rating and showing support to people who are being silenced – sex workers, sex educators, pole dancers, everyone. Let’s stick around for each other, and if there’s a dancer / sex worker / sex-positive educator or blogger or anything you follow but that doesn’t show up on your feed, go check their profiles.

Read More About Instagram Censorship

  • Read my thoughts on what this all means for social media here
  • My first interview with Instagram, where they fed me non-answers about community guidelines by way of their press team, denying the shadowban was a thing
  • My interview with Exotic Cancer, where she talks about her experience of account deletion and shadowban
  • Sass & Clacks‘ round-up of where we got so far – and her important list of organisations to support and ways to protest the shadowban
  • PolePositive’s reminder that sex workers were affected by the shadowban first
  • Mary Emily O’Hara’s interviews for MTV News, where she talks to sex-positive, queer and feminist brands about how social media platforms are preventing them from using ads to promote their products
  • Jesselyn Cook’s article about how sexist the shadowban is via the Huffington Post.
  • Find out more in world leading pole dancer Jordan Kensley‘s Instagram story highlights.

Update (26 July 2019)

It looks like, from today or from late last night, hashtags like #femalefitness and a variety of pole hashtags have now ‘come back’ into the ‘Recent’ tab – so the ban seems to have been lifted for now! Well done to all the pole dancers who kept fighting!

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