When were you censored?:
Was there notification of removal and, if so, what was the reason given?:
I received a pop-up notice from Instagram which stated:
“ Your Post Goes Against Our Community Guidelines
We removed your post because it goes against our Community Guidelines on nudity or sexual activity. If you post something that that goes against our guidelines again, your account may be deleted, including your posts, archive, messages and followers.”
Was there the opportunity to appeal? If so, did you appeal and what was the response?
I appealed and the appeal was denied.
What, if any, were the consequences of the removal for you? Please give details
I do environmental portraiture—mostly gay men and gay couples. My couples work was inspired by the Berlin Memorial for gay men who were persecuted during WW ll. The memorial consists of a one-minute reel, in black and white, of two young men kissing. The memorial’s message: why would anyone want to harm something so beautiful. It’s heartbreaking; I wept. After seeing the memorial, I was inspired to commence my couples work. My goal was to share, through my images, the same positive message: love is love.
As a result of Instagram’s aggressive and relentless censorship of my couples artwork, including the image below, I pretty much stopped posting gay couples on my account. I can no longer share the message of love, tolerance and acceptance that inspired me in Berlin four years ago. Once I stopped posting that work, couples stopped contacting me to do their portraits. When they didn’t see themselves, i.e., gay couples, on my page, they could not know that I did that kind of artwork. The truth is, I am not aware of any other artist who is doing that kind of work. Instagram is indeed determining what kind of art is acceptable on this planet. And it is doing so in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
Those are the hard and real consequences of Instagram’s censorship.
I have three additional comments:
1. Community Guidelines. The artwork below does not contain nudity. It does not have close-ups of buttocks. There are no visible genitals or pubic hair. There is no sexual activity whatsoever. There is no violation of the Guidelines. The image depicts a real-life couple, Austin and Steve, who had asked me to do a series of environmental portraits in their home. They had just come back from the gym and were in a contemplative moment. They are not even looking at each other much less engaged in any kind of sexual activity. I love this image because it captures the casual intimacy that some couples have when they are alone together.
After my appeal on this image was denied I came to the conclusion that it is simply impossible for a computer algorithm to determine when there is sexual activity. And, even when you have an actual human being reviewing an appeal, Instagram still didn’t get it right. It suggests that either the algorithm or the reviewers, or both, have some form of ingrained homophobia which translates to this: if there are two men together and there is some form of affection being shared between them, you have an excellent chance of having your post removed due to “sexual activity”. In short, the one-minute clip in the Berlin memorial, erected to counter discrimination against gays, would not survive scrutiny by Instagram censors.
I wrote to Instagram several times asking if there was an Instagram liaison to the LGBTQ community that I could talk to about the discrimination that I was experiencing. They never responded. . At the October 20, 2019 censorship summit with artists and Instagram, not a single participant was an artist who was doing LGBTQ “couples” work similar to mine.
2. Emotional Toll. I cannot overstate the emotional toll when an artist’s work is removed. It is deeply painful. Especially when you are following the letter of Instagram’s laws very, very carefully. When I had five images removed one week in August 2019 (four were restored, the one image that included two men together was not), I was unable to do any work for more than a week because it was simply too depressing to contemplate any further assaults on my work.
3. Shadow Banning. One might have thought that with the current aggressive censorship by Instagram, that they would not need further tools to control content. Not so. One of Instagram’s most invidious weapons against “unwanted” content is to prevent the artist’s work from being shown to people who are not currently following the artist. Further, there are no stated rules as to how an individual can get out of the shadow ban once you’re there. For me, my work is removed even though they comply with the written guidelines and then I am further punished by the Shadow Ban.