On 29 October 2019 – World Internet Day – a coalition of artists, sex workers, pole dancers, educators, athletes, performers and more that I am part of launched #EveryBODYVisible, a campaign to fight Instagram censorship, demand clarity about content moderation from the platform and change its approach to nudity. This post is an insider’s view on the campaign as well as an academic’s view on what it teaches us.
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Today is the day! Today I stand with @everybodyvisible – a coalition of #poledancers, educators, sex workers, models, artists, athletes, #LGBTQ accounts and more – to protest against censorship of #women, LGBTQ people and other minorities at the hands of Facebook & @instagram. As an internet #academic, a #blogger, a #writer, a #poledance performer and an abuse survivor, Instagram has been crucial to my self-promotion, education and my healing. Yet, instead of answering experts’ calls to implement #humanrights into its platform, IG and FB are restricting freedom of expression and censoring bodies. It should NOT be up to private businesses and companies with a monopoly to police people’s freedom of speech. We’d like the FB/IG team (@mosseri @sherylsandberg @maxinepwilliams @schrep @guyro @davisantigone in particular) to 1) clarify how their algorithms work 2) Work with women and minorities to retarget them 3) Share info about their algorithm-making teams to know how many women, LGBTQIA+ people and minorities work in them 4) Be consistent – why are only celebs allowed to show their bodies on IG? (We know why, but we’d like platforms to be consistent and allow everybody to be visible on the platform) 5) Share insights on how and why they block the promotion process for certain accounts 6) Acknowledge the sociological and psychological effects of shadow banning. If you’re wondering why all of this is important, check my bio for an academic analysis of what the shadowban is doing to social media and go to everybodyvisible [dot] com. Glad to be part of this coalition and proud of having worked with the team to spread the word and create our demands to improve freedom of speech on IG. Swipe right to learn how to take part in our protest today – basically share a pic of your or of our logo by @dope_minds and @el_bulldog_ingles, tag the people I mentioned above, share your story with the #everybodyvisible hashtag and tag your friends 🙂 1st📸: @theblacklightsydney
What Is #EveryBodyVisible and Who Is Behind It?
#EveryBODYVisible is the campaign and hashtag created by the group that obtained an apology from Instagram over the summer, after the platform censored pole dancing hashtags “in error”. If you read this blog, you’ll know yours truly teamed up with a star-studded group of pole dancers to get answers, but all we got was a PR-churned apology.
That group decided the apology wasn’t enough, so we started working on a bigger campaign showcasing all women and minorities who were censored by Instagram. That campaign became #EveryBODYVisible, and this is our team so far:
- AM Davies – Director of United Pole Artists and the creator of our website
- Makeda Smith – PR Strategist
- Jamilla Deville – Pole Dance Pioneer
- Athina – Pole Instructor and Competitor, in charge of our social media profiles
- Lori Glaza – Blogger/Researcher
- Rachel Osborne – Dancer/Activist, in charge of our social media profiles and creator of the original petition
- Phil Earley – Owner and Operator of DopeMinds LLC, he designed our logo
- Yours truly, Carolina – Writer, Pole Dancing Academic, Blogger
- Nikki St.John – Founder of Pole Dance Nation
- Elizabeth Blanchard – Pole Fitness Instructor
What Is The Instagram Shadowban?
The Shadowban is Instagram’s “light” censorship, removing your posts from the Explore page and from the “recent” tab, restricting their views because they go “against community guidelines”. Essentially, the platform is judging what’s inappropriate in its own way, without informing users how and why, making its own laws. Here’s everything I’ve ever written about it:
- Why The Instagram Algorithm Is Banning Your Posts
- Interview With Artist Exotic Cancer
- What Instagram’s Pole Dancing Shadowban Means For Social Media
- Instagram Denies Censorship of Pole Dancers And Sex Workers
- Instagram Apologises To Pole Dancers About The Shadowban
#EveryBodyVisible: Behind The Scenes
Since we shared the news about Instagram’s apology in August, the #EveryBODYVisible team began working on a press release, on a key set of demands, on a hashtag to choose and on recruiting allies.
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Hey Instagram chiefs @maxinewilliams @mosseri @sherylsandberg @davisantigone @schrep @guyro did you know that images of famous strippers are allowed on Instagram but actual working strippers are censored? How come? Why have you never made a proper statement about your reasons? When posts and accounts are deleted you just give a template argument about community guidelines, but how come photos like this one are allowed and others aren’t? Doesn’t this sexualised picture of Cardi B’s sparkly tits contravene your community guidelines? Is it OK cos she is famous now? 📸 . Ok for the record this is more important than what we can and can’t post on social media. It’s about who has visibility, community, access to power. If Instagram don’t want sex workers using the platform to advertise sexual services then just say that then! Don’t delete, censor and erase us – we need our networks, we need channels of communication with each other, we need access to information and resources that could be vital to our safety. We are most vulnerable when we are isolated. Censorship = isolation and for marginalised communities that ain’t no game. It’s about us having tools to stay safe, avoid exploitation, and thrive! 🛠 . Today is 🌍 WORLD INTERNET DAY 🌍 and today we unite with @everybodyvisible to make #everybodyvisible. You can too! If you agree with our statement then post your favourite fleshtastic pic, use the hashtag #everybodyvisible and tag the Instagram bosses – names above ⬆️ . #shadowbanned #censored #stigmakills #endthestigma #cardib #jlo #hustlersmovie #purple #rhythmandflow
From the East London Strippers’ Collective to artist Spencer Tunick, from pole dancers to yogis and accounts all over the world, #EveryBODYVisible gathered a huge response from allies – and from the media. Already before our launch, we were on NBC and ABC‘s sites, and many more.
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On International Internet Day we are delighted and grateful to share this beautiful art by internationally renowned artist @spencertunick, which he has shared today with the hashtag #EveryBODYVisible @everybodyvisible Humans all over the world are experiencing discrimination when their creative content is hidden on social media. What message does it send when the skin you are in, the life, love and work you choose, the movements you make are ‘against community guidelines’? Today we ask social media chiefs to listen to us, and help to make this shared space better and fairer for all. We want #EveryBODYvisible
On October 29, Michelle Shimmy was one of the first people in our network to post with the #EveryBODYVisible hashtag. Star pole dancers all over Australia followed, and when Europe woke up the morning after we all took to Instagram to protest.
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I’m an athlete and an artist. I’ve trained for well over a decade to and worked hard to help build this industry that I love. We are a worldwide community of pole dancers, united by our love for our art. We train together online, form friendships, motivate, inspire, encourage and uplift each other as work hard to reach new heights and goals. @instagram – your algorithm is super frustrating for our community. Today is World Internet Day, and we as a community, working with other communities similarly affected, want to voice our concerns and bring them to the attention of the people who run Instagram. We are regularly and blatantly discriminated against. Deleted, blocked, banned – without notice or explanation. This really impacts on those of us trying to run small businesses and build careers in this space. It’s also sexist and discriminatory. . WE WANT: Clear guidelines, equally-applied ‘community standards’, right of appeal, and an urgent review into algorithmic bias disproportionately affecting the visibility of LGBTQIA folx, People of Color, women, sex workers, dancers, athletes, fitness fans, artists, photographers & body-positive Instagram users. . # everyBODYvisible @everybodyvisible Photographer: @justintranphotography . We tag Instagram chiefs @Mosseri, @SherylSandberg, @DavisAntigone @maxinepwilliams @Schrep, @Guyro
Until lunchtime that is – when it came out that Instagram had shadowbanned the #EveryBODYVisible hashtag.
What Does Instagram’s Censorship of #EveryBODYVisble Mean?
Because as an academic I can’t do things without going on a sociological mindfuck, here are three things that the #EveryBODYVisible censorship at the hands of IG tell us about the state of social media today.
Monopolies Are Bad
I know what you’re thinking. “You’ve done an anti-Instagram censoring campaign ON Instagram? And you got censored by Instagram? LOL”.
LOL, indeed. But think about it: where else would you have posted this campaign? Twitter has been losing users for ages, and Instagram is without doubt the biggest growing social media platform we have at the moment that engages all sort of people. It just happens to be owned by Facebook – like WhatsApp.
Facebook’s ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp basically means that Zuck and friends have a monopoly over social media content, and because their legal responsibilities are still quite murky – if we exclude FOSTA/SESTA – they have the power to demote whatever they want. Looks like what they want is women, minorities, nudity – but hate speech and alt-right propaganda are fine.
So yeah. Where else can we do a big social media campaign if not on Instagram? The fact that they can decide to censor us like they have is part of the problem.
What is happening at the moment is that the power of the Internet resides in the hands of Facebook, Google and Twitter. And that everyone, one day or another, can be censored if you don’t conform to their idea of propriety. What we wanted to do was shine a light on that – and it looks like we did.
Leaving AI Completely In Charge Of Speech / Content Is Dangerous
In World Without Mind, author Franklin Foer writes that algorithms are “invisibilia” – nobody, maybe not even platforms themselves, have a full grasp of how they work. Algorithms are trained by people, but unlike people they don’t do nuance and context.
In Speech Police, the UN’s Special Rapporteur For Freedom of Speech David Kaye warns of the risk of leaving moderation of public interest content to algorithms. In the past, AI has censored war videos published by activists or by news organisations – videos that were crucial in spreading the news about living and political conditions in certain states.
What does it mean for our democracy if a handful of platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google – get to regulate what’s ok and what’s not according to their own, platform-specific community guidelines? Debate will be impoverished, censorship will be rife, people will not learn about different views or experiences. That’s what happens.
Users and Governments Need To Demand More Responsibility From Social Media Companies
Of course policing the Internet is something no one wants to do. But if Instagram’s censorship of women, minorities and of #EveryBODYVisible is anything to go by… will we keep seeing stories about dissent? Will we keep seeing stories that question how social media platforms work?
It’s time that governments demand clarity from social media platforms about how they work, and it’s time these platforms implemented international human rights law more strongly in their moderation techniques. The Internet can’t be a no man’s land where three tech giants decide what’s appropriate or not. This is not what social media were meant to do: give people a platform. Yet, increasingly, social media are becoming more of a cash cow for businesses and less of a platform for the public. It’s in everyone’s interest to start regulating them so that people aren’t censored unfairly.
What’s Next For #EveryBODYVisible?
We will continue campaigning, obvs. In fact, the more of us there are, the better – take action here.
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#EveryBODYVisible @everybodyvisible —- Today is international internet day and it’s time to tell @instagram to stop! I’ve never be in a community that’s so supportive and loving, we share our passion and art to keep us motivated and being awesome. But Instagram’s algorithms and guidelines have been impacting us negatively by shadow banning, deleting accounts, unfollow accounts for us etc. lots of people’s business and work are affectedas Instagram has been one of the main source us getting works or reach certain audience👎🏻 If you don’t think you are affected you probably are, so stand up and say it out loud! “ We want clear guidelines, equally-applied ‘community standards’, right of appeal, and an urgent review into algorithmic bias disproportionately affecting the visibility of LGBTQIA folx, People of Color, sex workers, dancers, athletes, fitness fans, artists, photographers & body-positive IG users.” Tag Instagram chiefs @mosseri @sherylsandberg @davisantigone @maxinepwilliams @schrep @guyro ___________________ #adamlin #apolelin 📸 by @devereuxxo • • • • • #pole#poledance#fitness#dance#mrpoledance#polesport#mrpoledance#malefitness#maledancer#poledancemagic#poleboys#polelove#menofpole#malepoledancer#poledancecombo#poledancesofig#unitedbypole#ipsfpolesports#poledancemagic#Polemale#polefitness#poledancersofinstagram#powerpolesports#gay#instagay#gayboy#iggay#ig_poledance
At some point on Tuesday, Instagram blocked #EveryBODYVisible from commenting or liking any posts – we don’t know if this was intentional or if the platform perceived our actions as spam. The profile even crashed for a short while – once again, we don’t know if it’s due to silencing or because of so much interaction from all the people tagging and reposting us.
I have also reached out to Instagram to see whether they want to comment, but haven’t heard from them yet. Will keep you posted.
What this all shows, mainly, is that the protest was a success. Instagram won’t change overnight, but we’ve raised awareness of an issue that touches much more than just pole dancers. Instagram’s censorship of our content means we’re ruffling some feathers – and that, to me, is doing something right.
When I woke up this morning I saw that the reason why I started performing – burlesque legend Dita Von Teese – posted about us too. Dita is what attracted me to on-stage nakedness in the first place, and the reason why I spent my scholarship money on underwear as a teen. I am humbled, moved and just… speechless that she would join our campaign.
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Today I am joining @everybodyvisible in ending censorship of art on social media. On this #internationalinternetday we want to voice our concerns and bring them to the attention of the people who run Instagram. We request clear guidelines, equally-applied ‘community standards’, right of appeal, and an urgent review into algorithmic bias disproportionately affecting the visibility of women, femme-presenting people, LGBTQIA folx, people of color, sex workers, dancers, athletes, fitness fans, artists, photographers & body-positive Instagram users. We tag Instagram chiefs @Mosseri @SherylSandberg @DavisAntigone @maxinepwilliams @Schrep @Guyro #EveryBODYVisible *Note that this image by @alimahdaviparis does NOT violate the current community standards; there is only the illusion of nudity, with a gown by @ralphandrusso utilizing @swarovski crystal.
Also, try and look at the last posts in which Sheryl Sandberg has been tagged. Weird what a bunch of naked people can do, uh?
Over and out for now.
Update: 31 October 2019
In an Instagram story, the Head of IG Adam Mosseri acknowledged our demands as reasonable. EveryBODYVisible is still talking to media and going through everyone’s posts – thanks for taking part!