Instagram’s Censorship Could Push Creators Off the Platform

Written by Allison Matyus, Orginal Article Published

Instagram creators are becoming increasingly frustrated with the platform’s censorship rules that seem to be changing every day.

Certain accounts that center on informational topics, art, activism, and more have dealt with being flagged or having features taken away from them because of Instagram’s ever-changing Community Guidelines. These accounts have had to resort to self-censoring and creating backup accounts, all because they post about topics like politics, LGBTQ+, sexuality, and more. Creators of these accounts are getting fed up with Instagram’s censorship. 

“I think Instagram has such potential to be a site for community and activism, and speaking boldly and proudly about our bodies, but they’re making that almost impossible now,” Tori Ford, the founder of Medical Herstory, told Lifewire in a phone interview. 

Walking on Eggshells 

Instagram’s Community Guidelines define what is and isn’t allowed on the platform, but they are relatively broad and are constantly changing. The platform said it has the right to remove content or restrict accounts that go against these guidelines, but many creators are confused about where Instagram draws the line in censorship. 

In the past week, many have received a notification from Instagram saying they would lose access to their link sticker due to violating Community Guidelines—a move that could greatly impact an accounts’ income.

While Ford’s account has not received this notification, she has dealt with flagged content and censoring from Instagram in the two years since she created Medical Herstory. 

Medical Herstory is a not-for-profit organization working to eliminate sexism, shame, and stigma from health experiences. Ford said the organization has had its content flagged by Instagram in the past, since it involves sexuality and public health.

“We now have to be a lot more careful with the way we’re phrasing things with our language because often it is the captions of your posts that Instagram just sort of screens and flags,” she said. 

Ford provided one specific example of promoting a post about how women who experience pain during sex need to be taken more seriously. However, Instagram flagged it for being too political. 

“It’s interesting that a platform that benefits from the free labor of activists who make so much content then punishes them [by] not only shadow banning, but also [in] advertising,” Ford said.

“There are options like Discord servers and private groups where you can talk without having that censorship there, which I think is very powerful.”

“It has really negative effects for not only educational accounts, but other marginalized communities who are really trying to use their voices on the platform.”

Aside from educational/activism accounts, Instagram also has flagged artists who make a living on the platform by posting their art. One such account, Vintage Fantasy, recently created a petition calling on Instagram to change its restrictions and better communicate with account holders.

“Features have been taken away from us, such as call-to-action buttons, engagement with our audience, shadow banning, restricted search results, and much more,” wrote Justin Stewart, creator of Vintage Fantasy, in the petition. 

“We know censorship is important when it comes to harmful or abusive content. But when it starts restricting creative expression, it makes the platform no longer fun and engaging.”

In response to restrictions against accounts, Facebook said the censorship is not restrictive to the art/activism communities. A Facebook company spokesperson told Lifewire that Instagram works to build and maintain a healthy environment on the platform and that any account that violates the rules and guidelines may risk losing access to features, even on their first offense.

Instagram’s Censored Future

The future of Instagram might mean fewer accounts like Medical Herstory and Vintage Fantasy if these types of activism/artistic accounts can’t thrive on the platform. Instead, Ford said it might mean going somewhere else. 

Illustration of thumbs up and thumbs down icons on two smartphone screens
Getty Images / Malte Mueller

“I think, unfortunately, we’re gonna see a lot of communities going more private,” she said. “There are options like Discord servers and private groups where you can talk without having that censorship there, which I think is very powerful.”

Ford said that, ultimately, Instagram needs to remember that creators make up the entire platform and that accounts have more power than they think. 

“We have really been sort of tricked into thinking that Instagram has done us a favor by letting us have a platform to reach so many people,” Ford said. 

“But if users weren’t posting [on] Instagram, there would be no value, no output, and nothing to show. So we should be more mindful of what platforms we’re uplifting and bringing value to.”