Social Media Censorship

6d9317_da355076f9de491d8c0c87ad917493bcThis morning, YoursTruelyMelly, one of my previous BoPo Warriors of the Week, woke up to find that one of her images had been removed from Instagram. It was an image of her in her new GabiFresh swimwear, facing away from the camera. Melissa herself describes it as “a very empowering photo” of her, fully covered and wearing a swimsuit like any woman on the beach or at a pool would. It was a beautiful photo, but it was not a sexualized pose or expression, it was shot for female viewers, not the male gaze. Earlier today, I asked her to describe how this all happened and she said that she “knew there were quite a few people trolling the comments last night” and that perhaps “a few people might have reported it to be spiteful as they were going back and forth” arguing with her regular followers. She was surprised that the photo was deleted and wondered if all it takes is a few people clicking report or if Instagram actually reviews these photos before they are deleted. Just to be perfectly clear, this photo of YoursTruelyMelly did not include any nudity, pornography, hate speech, violence or illegal drugs. As far as I was aware, those are the only reasons that images and/or accounts will be removed from Instagram, however, it now appears that I could be wrong. I reached out to a few other body positivity activists and plus size bloggers and they shared similar experiences of censorship.

MsWink, who was also previously featured on the earlier version of my blog, has had 14 images removed from her Instagram account. She says that these images were implied nudes but that there was no actual nudity included in the photos she posted. For two years now, she has been posting images of her “body in order to empower and inspire girls, especially those with a similar body type”. Her account shows “non-traditionally beautiful fat bodies with small boobs, a big tummy and back rolls”. She thinks that the people who reported her images couldn’t handle the idea or the sight of a fat, confident, happy and semi-nude woman. The experience of being censored by Instagram made her “feel monitored and less valid”, which is not something anyone deserves to experience, simply for existing publicly.

 An anonymous BoPo Warrior told me that she has had multiple images removed from her page, even one of her dogs and her, where she was fully clothed. She thinks that there may be something to the theory that any image that gets reported enough is removed, without any further inspection from Instagram. It is frustrating to think that these “innocent photos, which are meant to inspire people, can be deleted on a whim, yet there are thousands of spam pages and pornographic hashtags thriving”. I would like Instagram to acknowledge that this type of reporting system would make it really easy for an abusive ex-partner or determined stalker to harass someone online. Social media sites need to be responsible for this type of targeting if their platforms make it easier to bully and abuse people. Reporting should cause an inspection, not an immediate deletion.

Another Boday Positive Babe who loves to push boundaries says that the experience of “getting a photo reported or deleted, whether it violates Instagram’s guidelines or not, feels like having your freedom of expression taken away from you. For someone to go out of their way to report a photo, it is discouraging” but it is important to remember that “the people who are reporting these photos are the people who spread hate and can’t stand to see fat happy women. They are trying to tear us down.” But I think we all know, they simply aren’t going to succeed with a girl gang like this!

I have not yet had a photo removed from my personal account, but one was removed from my SelfiesForSelfLove page and when I logged in, I received a notification that an image had been removed, but it did not indicate which one or why. In Melly’s case, she doesn’t even remember seeing a notification this morning but admits she could have missed it in the process of just waking up. The notification screen says that one of your photos was removed because it violated Instagram’s terms of use, but it doesn’t specify in which way and I still haven’t been able to figure it out. I can tell you for sure that I have never posted any full nudes, but that I have posted a few implied nudes, as in nothing was visible, of plus size women and men. I am happy to report that images I have shared of trans men showing their top surgery scars and cis women showing their mastectomy scars were not removed from that page. However, I am aware of times when this was not the case on many social media platforms.

As a former straight sized model myself, there are implied nude images of myself on my personal Facebook page, none of those images have ever been removed because in those images I represent the beauty ideal of white, thin, able-bodied and sexualized for male viewing. How many celebrities have countless nude and semi-nude images on their Instagram profiles? Justin Beiber, Demi Lovato, Kim Kardashian and so on. So why are all these beautiful fat women, who love themselves, having their images removed when they are showing far less nudity? I think you can all see clearly that fat phobia is to blame.

If you want to read more about sexist double standards in social media bans and image removal policies, check out this article on Clementine Ford’s response to her violent bullies and this article on breastfeeding photos being removed from Facebook. Misogyny at its finest!

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