Earlier this summer, a series of Salty adverts on Instagram featuring fully clothed BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Color), disabled, plus-sized, and trans women were rejected by the social media mogul for “promoting escorting services.”
Something that did not sit well with the editorial team of Salty, a New York-based independent media. “There are rumors, talks, conversations happening in our communities about how certain bodies and perspectives are being policed, and how certain people are targeted for censorship more than others on Instagram,” read the official statements on Salty.
The Salty team eventually decided to dig deeper and analyze algorithmic bias in content policing of marginalized communities – a full-fledged report on the matter has just been released by Salty on its website. The membership-driven digital newsletter and platform – committed to amplifying the voices and visibility of women, trans, and nonbinary people – is currently run by 40 volunteers, all of whom speak together through a common voice.
The report reveals a multitude of appalling issues, such as that queer people and women of color are policed at a higher rate than the general users on Instagram, and that plus-sized and body-positive profiles were often wrongly flagged for “sexual solicitation” or “excessive nudity.” More importantly, policies that are meant to protect users from racist or sexist behavior on Instagram were instead reported to harm the very groups that need protection.
According to the majority of the survey respondents, they were given no reason for actions against their account and were simply told they violated “community guidelines.” “They stated ‘I violated community guidelines',” explained one anonymous survey respondent. “When I inquired how, I was met with silence. I believe I was unfairly targeted by fatphobic bigots who reported my profile and IG did nothing to stop it, instead choosing to delete my account, the person who was harassed.”
Following Salty's protest and call-out for “false flags” on Instagram, Facebook Policy officials reached out to rectify the situation and reinstate the ads. According to Salty, they also agreed to meet with the media's team to discuss ways to make the policies more inclusive; however, the empowering discussion around Instagram policies that was supposed to happen never took place as the officials did not follow up the initial conversation.
“We fight for visibility every day, and increasingly we find that the perspectives of those we amplify are being silenced – by conscious or unconscious bias built into the framework of our digital world,” Salty's team stated, adding that they are currently working on a more elaborated, 2.0 version of the report, and inviting people to speak out and participate in their on-going survey. “Risqué content featuring thin, cis white women seems less censored than content featuring plus-sized, black, queer women – and cis white men appear to have a free pass to behave and post in any way they please, regardless of the harm they inflict,” the team concluded.
Instagram/Facebook Policy officials have yet to officially react to this report and its claims. Since Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012, the social network has been repeatedly subjected to criticism for its opaque approach to decision making related to community guidelines and borderline content policy. In addition, Facebook is currently under fire for its controversial commitment to political advertising.
Inclusivity and its Limits