Is Instagram sexist? | The Tylt

Is Instagram sexist?

For many, Instagram is a place of self-expression and social interaction. The app's gatekeepers try to keep all posted content appropriate and safe, meaning images of sexual intercourse and most forms of nudity are explicitly prohibited. Many users appreciate the ability to report inappropriate posts and feel comfortable exploring new accounts as a result. But critics warn Instagram has gone too far; in reality, it is shadow-banning suggestive content of any kind. Experts agree Instagram's guidelines unfairly target women. Are Instagram's rules sexist?

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According to Instagram's Community Guidelines, the app is meant to be a "reflection of our diverse community of cultures, ages, and beliefs." As a result, the guidelines—which all users agree to when creating an account—ban most forms of nudity: 

We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.

When it comes to images of female nipples specifically, Instagram makes exceptions for content relating to mastectomies and breast-feeding. The point of these guidelines is to allow everyone to enjoy sharing their photos and seeing the photos of others. Without some structure and rules, Instagram would be an uncensored free-for-all—one which few people would be able to use without caution.

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But some have noticed that Instagram is going a step beyond taking content down that violates the community guidelines; it is also demoting posts it deems "inappropriate."  Instagram has provided little transparency on how it defines "inappropriate" beyond what is already listed in its community guidelines, and the result is censorship of the female body. HuffPost's Jesselyn Cook reports that Instagram:

...is suppressing vaguely “inappropriate” posts in a quiet campaign devoid of transparency. Instead of trolls and extremists, experts say it’s women and sex workers in particular who will suffer the consequences.

Cook spoke with one Instagram user, whose account often features "erotic illustrations," on the hazy rules: 

“The rules are not black and white. They couldn’t be more vague,” Caitlin said. “How will [algorithms] be able to differentiate [between] a woman in lingerie and a woman in a bikini at the beach? A fitness model? Where do they draw the line?”
“Anybody who is taking ownership of their sexuality and being comfortable with their body even in a nonsexual way is being silenced for it.”
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But Instagram must do what it deems necessary in order to keep its platform safe. Cook also notes: 

This change, which comes amid a wider debate over tech giants’ control of their algorithms, represents Instagram’s efforts to ensure the posts it recommends are “both safe and appropriate for the community,” according to a brief statement about managing problematic content on the site.

In the same statement, Guy Rosen, Facebook's VP of Integrity, and Tessa Lyons, Facebook's Head of News Feed Integrity, note: 

...a sexually suggestive post will still appear in Feed if you follow the account that posts it, but this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore or hashtag pages.

Instagram certainly has room to expand on its definition of "sexually suggestive," but its efforts are meant to keep the community safe, not marginalize its own members.

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Instagram's lack of transparency on what it deems "sexually suggestive" is problematic. Without transparency, users cannot trust Instagram's newsfeed algorithm to have a fair and equal understanding either.

Furthermore, sexually suggestive material means different things to different people, and if Instagram is going to lean on the famous "I know it when I see it" definition of obscenity for content that is only "suggestive," women—whose bodies are often sexualized without their knowledge or consent—cannot hope to be treated equally by the platform. According to Alex Carlie, Instagram's new rules also heavily impact the LGTBQ community. In a petition, Carlie writes: 

I've recently noticed that instagram is not only removing posts that in their opinion "contain nudity" , but also a lot of lgbtq pics, now, I'm talking about pictures of people with clothes on, just kissing. There have been times where my posts of two girls just kissing, with clothes on—which Instagrams sexist rules should approve of—have been deleted for no reason, and when I tried contacting Instagram, I'd get no answer. 
FINAL RESULTS
Culture
Is Instagram sexist?
A festive crown for the winner
#InstagramEqual
#InstagramSexist