Instagram’s nudity policy has been a talking matter for quite a few years already. Alas, after years of controversy and unfair censorship, Instagram (and therefore Facebook) has announced that it will finally update its policy on nudity. Why now?
In August 2020, Instagram was accused of censoring and silencing black plus-size model Nyome Nicholas-Williams after she posted photographs of her sitting on a chair, wearing cycling shorts, and covering her breasts with her arms. The pictures were removed from the social media platform for allegedly “violating the platform’s semi-nudity guidelines.”
Even before this occurrence, Instagram had been accused of repeatedly discriminating against black people, plus-size users, and other marginalised communities, by deleting their photos while allowing similar pictures of semi-naked skinny white women on its feeds.
After the platform deleted Nicholas-Williams’ post, content creators showed the model support by creating the petition titled Stop Instagram from censoring fat Black women, which so far has received more than 22,000 signatures and is aiming to get 25,000. The controversy also caused fans to protest and post pictures of the model en masse under the hashtag #IWantToSeeNyome.
On top of that, fellow black plus-size influencer Stephanie Yeobah raised the issue to Instagram directly on her behalf and activist Gina Martin, who previously protested for the vital law against upskirting, helped amplify the cause. This wave of support even reached the streets of London where graffiti was painted across the walls of the capital.
According to the Guardian, Facebook, which is Instagram’s parent company, denied that Nicholas-Williams had been racially discriminated against, and instead explained that its former policy on “boob squeezing” had caused her photos to be removed.
A spokesperson from Instagram first explained why pictures of Nicholas-Williams were originally taken down: “We do not allow breast squeezing because it can be most commonly associated with pornography.”
However, Instagram then changed its point of view (probably after seeing the wave of protest that resulted from the silencing of the plus-size model) and stated: “As we looked into this more closely, we realised it was an instance where our policy on breast squeezing wasn’t being correctly applied. Hearing Nyome’s feedback helped us understand where this policy was falling short, and how we could refine it.”
As a result, the new updated policy on nudity will apply across Instagram and Facebook and should come into effect as early as this week. After hearing the news, Nicholas-Williams wrote on Instagram: “We have put our heart and souls into this campaign and to see it come to fruition is insane!”
She added: “There’s still a lot of work to be done, as black plus-sized women continue to be censored in many ways; and white women STILL tried to hijack and make it their campaign. There is of course a huge racial imbalance in the algorithm that still exists as white bodies are promoted and don’t have to worry about censorship of their posts but black bodies still have to justify presence on the platform, this has also been brought to Instagrams attention! But when we put our minds to it… we can achieve literally ANYTHING!!”
The four ‘official’ reasons your Instagram account might have been shadowbanned:
1. Your account is continually being reported.
2. You are using software that violates Instagram’s Terms of Service, such as buying fake followers or auto-posting websites (Buffer is fine). You can use this link to see how to remove third party posters from your account.
3. You are exceeding your daily/hourly limits of engagement. Depending on the age of your account you receive 150 likes, 60 comments, and 60 follow or unfollow per hour.
4. You are using a broken or abused hashtag. Even innocent hashtags such as #besties can, and have become overrun with ‘offensive’ material. Instagram will ban or limit broken hashtags. So, if you use it, you will get shadowbanned. Here is a list of all banned hashtags in 2019.
Shadowbanning—also called stealth banning, ghost banning or comment ghosting—is the act of blocking or partially blocking a user or their content from an online community. Anyone who gets shadowbanned will not be told that they are, and most users will only realise it after a while. Signifiers include a noticeable dip in likes on new posts, or someone else notifying they are unable to tag or search the shadowbanned account.
Shadowbanning has been recorded on various internet platforms since the 80s, but it only started appearing on Instagram in 2017. Instagram explained that the ban is intentionally coded and that it aims to stop bots, spammers, as well as protect younger users from being exposed to ‘sensitive’ material. With around 1 billion users, it’s impossible for Instagram to monitor all its content manually, so specific topics have been classified as triggering. Because of Instagram’s regular changes to its algorithm, these triggers are hard to keep tabs on. That’s why, in the same way banks might block your bank account as soon as they see fraudulent behaviour on it, Instagram shadowbans an account as soon as it deems it contains triggering content. However, as many people have witnessed in the last few months, the ban can sometimes block some accounts that don’t seem to be violating any terms. The question is, what does Instagram really qualifies as ‘triggering content’, and what can be done to avoid getting shadowbanned?
When Instagram started its trial to remove likes last year (mostly in the US at first), the social media platform also asked for a push in ‘authenticity’, and yet, there seemed to be a rising number of accounts deletion and censorship at that time. What I had noticed myself on my Instagram feed had then been confirmed by journalist Chanté Joseph in an article for The Guardian, which highlighted how the platform was, and still is, shadowbanning creative accounts, and queer-inclined ones more specifically.
London’s party and DJ collective Pxssy Palace has been one of the many accounts affected by the 2019 shadowban. Screen Shot spoke with them about it, “There is no denying that the algorithm is targeting specific groups as we can all see it for ourselves. Not being able to search people’s accounts under the ban, not seeing posts from people in months and the list is continuously growing. The fact is that racist posts have been left on feeds as they ‘do not break any of the community guidelines’ and it’s wack, as we have people’s accounts being taken down left, right, and centre for calling out these racist, homophobic individuals.”
Talking about how long exactly this has been going on, the collective added, “This has been going on for a while now, it’s been BPOCs who have been heavily targeted for also speaking out time and time again. The algorithm will never favour us and Instagram denying time and time again that it doesn’t shadowban is beyond frustrating now. It’s also frustrating how much we have been relying on this platform to connect with our community and inform them about events, so we are beginning to foster community offline and in other methods such as mailing lists and WhatsApp groups.”
As Pxssy Palace highlighted, this shadowban is particularly distressing to queer accounts, which actually rely on the social media platform to promote and sell tickets for events. As trivial as it might seem, the ban largely affects the LGBTQ community. “We shouldn’t have been relying on Instagram as the only method [for promotion], however, it was a really great tool. The internet could turn off tomorrow and we would have no idea of what’s going to happen—it’s a wake-up call to make sure we are fostering offline communities, so we are protected. At the moment, Instagram is directly affecting ticket sales, and therefore the livelihood of QTIPOC who work with us regularly,” shared Nadine Ahmad with Screen Shot.
The Instagram shadowban supposedly lasts for 14 days, although many users claim that they have been shadowbanned for several weeks, and sometimes even months.
So, if you think you have been shadowbanned too, here are 10 tips to get rid of that nasty shadowban:
1. Detox: Apparently, some people say that a two-day silence helps remove the ban. After that, feel free to keep on engaging, chatting, and using the platform as usual.
2. Hashtag no more: Delete hashtags from your recent posts, as some of these might be blocked or banned. Additionally, place your hashtags in the caption of your posts, not in the comments section, and don’t go overboard with hashtags. Never go near the maximum number of hashtags (30), and never repeat hashtags.
3. Keep it similar: Don’t make sudden changes to your user info, bio, email address during this period. Avoid any mass liking, mass commenting, following or unfollowing spree.
4. Report: Contact Instagram and tell the company that your posts aren’t showing up in hashtag searches, but don’t tell them you’ve been shadowbanned.
5. Pics and vids: Currently, the algorithm favours videos, and imagery over text, especially for sponsored posts.
6. Sock it: Create a backup account, also known as a ‘sock’.
7. Male only: Try switching your profile to Male as @dyelindsey reports.
8. No third party: Check on Instagram which third-party applications you’ve given permission to, and delete as many as possible.
9. C*nsor your language: Use censored language, such as ‘s*x’, and acronyms.
10. No spam: Avoid engaging in any spam-like behaviour, such as mass liking, leaving short, duplicate comments, or regularly using keywords that are likely to flag as questionable.
In the meantime, let’s hope that the tips above help you prepare for the next shadow ban.