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Why is Instagram censoring so many hashtags used by women and LGBT people?
An overview of the popular photo app’s banned tags shows a disturbing trend.
We first discovered last July that Instagram had banned the hashtag #goddess.
The sudden removal of the #goddess tag sparked outrage among religious groups and women’s rights activists—and the tag #bringbackgoddess quickly filled the void. Then Instagram banned the tag #curvy, pissing off plus-size women and body positivity activists.
On Wednesday, we discovered that the problem was much bigger than just two banned feminism-centered hashtags. According to research compiled by Nick Drewe for his social data blog the Data Pack, the list of censored Instagram hashtags is long and slightly disturbing.
Not only were #goddess and #curvy still banned, but so were tags like #woman, #women, #womencrushwednesday, #bi, #lesbian, #lesbiansofinstagram, #gays, #iamgay, and multiple other tags that represent identities.
What’s up with Instagram censoring women and the LGBT community?
The Daily Dot sent a request for comment to an Instagram spokesperson on Wednesday evening and will update this story when a reply is received.
Last July, the photo-sharing app’s justification for banning the oddly non-threatening tags was simple: the community abused them, uploading nude and sexual content that defied Instagram’s content rules and tagging it with terms like #curvy, #goddess, and other words that aren’t typically associated with porn.
An Instagram spokesperson told the Daily Dot in July that the company was working to restore the tags and that misused tags are only blocked temporarily.
In this case, #goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity. We’ve taken similar action on dozens of hashtags because they were being used to share inappropriate content. We’re working on a way to more quickly restore certain hashtags that have previously been blocked.
As Drewe explained in his published list of banned tags, Instagram censors tags on two separate levels: there are explicit tags (like #anal) that are permanently banned, and there are “currently hidden” tags (like #goddess) that are sometimes restored after porn-spamming ceases.
Drewe researched the censored tags using the company’s own API platform, which allows developers to create pairing applications and companies to track user data. He explained on the Data Pack blog that he wrote a program to double-check whether tags listed as banned in the API were, in fact, still blocked.
Some temporarily hidden tags bring up a limited set of “top posts” and a message that explains the current blocked status of the tag. But on Wednesday, a series of searches for tags like #women and #lesbian revealed that sometimes an explainer pops up, while sometimes searching for the same hashtag reveals nothing at all.
For example, typing #lesbian into the search field brings up a blank—other than the tricky #lësbian workaround that is full of photos. But if you type just the word “lesbian” into the search field without a hashmark, then a smattering of top photos appears along with an explainer about why the rest are hidden.
While the overview of Instagram’s currently banned tags doesn’t make the app look LGBT- or woman-friendly, other terms on the list of censored tags are just plain weird.
It’s hard to imagine that people have been uploading so much porn to the #kansas, #easter, or #workflow hashtags that Instagram had to censor them. And we’re pretty sure we don’t even want to know what happened to make the company block #gloves.
Yet those hashtags are all currently censored—and as with the 10-month wait for #goddess to return, it’s unclear whether they will ever be restored.
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.