Instagram’s guidelines are meant to provide users with the best experience possible. Stating in its guidelines “If we’re made aware of a post that goes against our Community Guidelines, we’ll remove it from Instagram.”

However, the vague language used in the Community Guidelines leaves many questions as to what is considered offensive. What can be offensive to one person, can be seen as a legitimate form of expression to another. 

It is this gray area in language that leaves content creators at the mercy of  Instagram and its users. A mercy that is unforgiving to women, the LGBT+ community, and activists. 

Content creators are finding themselves being filtered by vague guidelines set up by the platform and its parent company, Facebook. Some are even going as far as accusing the social media platform of censoring their content despite not breaking any outright stated rules. 

One example from the LGBT community is Pxssy Palace (@pxssypalace), a “London based Queer collective/club night that centres Queer womxn, Trans, NB & Intersex POC” that has accused the social media platform of censoring their feed.

Screen capture from @pxssypalace’s Instagram from October 22, 2019, claiming that the account has been shadowbanned by Instagram. Photo courtesy of @pxssypalace.

The account argues that the vagueness of Instagram’s guidelines is what causes the most confusion and anguish for content creators looking to engage with their followers both on and offline. By leaving the power to deem what is and is not appropriate in the hands of Instagram the platform is censoring marginalized groups and creating a false sense of freedom of expression.

Pxssy Palace’s feed from their first shadow ban in April/May 2019. According to Instagram’s Community Guidelines nudity is not allowed on the platform. “This includes photos, videos… that show…genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples… ” Photo courtesy of @pxssypalace.

Pxssy Palace claims to have been shadowbanned, having their posts and account strategically hidden to limit views and interaction,  early in 2019, and since then has taken action to self-censor and limited posting photos that may be considered inappropriate by Instagram, and keeping its posts within the Community Guidelines.

“If we’re made aware of a post that goes against our Community Guidelines, we’ll remove it from Instagram.”

-Instagram Community Guidelines

Those efforts were in vain when the account found itself shadowbanned again in late 2019. Despite being verified, meaning that the account is important and relevant, Pxssy Palace still finds itself being censored again by Instagram. After seeing engagement on posts down, the account urged its followers to share images from their timeline in an effort to get Pxssy Palace’s upcoming event on the community radar.

Event promoting @pxssypalace’s November 23, 2019 event. Photo courtesy of @pxssypalace.

Photo courtesy of @nowhitesaviors

Shadowbans not only affect sex-positive accounts they also affect activist accounts. No White Saviors (@nowhitesaviors) is an account that has been threatened with disablement and has had posts taken down by Instagram for “violating Community Guidelines.”

The account uses Instagram as a platform to create a community denouncing the ‘white savior’ narrative that is pervasive through western society. It also calls out the harm that is done to minority communities done by ill-informed, ill-intentioned, and unqualified by white persons in developing nations.

Often tagged as a hate group in the comments or reported by users who stumble across the page, No white Saviors has pointed out time and again that it is not quelling white voices, but rather making room for voices of color in their communities and allow them to have a say in their future, while damning the exploitation of communities of color in the name of thinly-veiled white supremacy.

What No White Saviors aims to do with its account is allowed under Instagram’s Community Guidelines “When hate speech is being shared to challenge it or to raise awareness, we may allow it. In those instances, we ask that you express your intent clearly.”

A post from August 31, 2019, No White Saviors (@nowhitesaviors) responds to being reported to Instagram as a ‘hate group’. Photo courtesy of @nowhitesaviors

While No White Saviors may not explicitly state their intentions on their profile, it is evident from the content that the account does not promote hate speech or bullying against the persons and institutions the account touches upon. It is creating a community to educate and support activism, which is allowed, as stated in Instagram’s Guidelines. “The Instagram community cares for each other, and is often a place where people facing difficult issues… come together to create awareness or find support.”

If No White Saviors is following Instagram’s Guidelines, then why did followers reach out via direct message to ask if it had been shadowbanned by Instagram? A look into the comments section finds that the user who sent the question was not the only one having trouble finding No White Saviors. The profile was not deleted or disabled, but rather strategically hidden by Instagram’s algorithm.

A post from October 23, 2019, shows a direct message to @nowhitesaviors from a follower who cannot see their content on Instagram. Comments show other users having the same problem. Photo courtesy of @nowhitesaviors.

At 244,000 followers and near 500 posts it is difficult to believe that an account that promotes the shifting of ideals would be at risk of being disabled and deleted by Instagram. Though that is exactly what happened, on August 18, 2019, post No White Saviors was at risk of being deleted by Instagram for “violating the Community Guidelines.”

“want to foster a positive, diverse community”

-Instagram Commnuity Guidelines

A backup account was set up for followers to continue to get @nowhitesaviors content if the main account was threatened with deletion by Instagram. Photo courtsey of @nowhitesaviors.

Despite the strong following, No White Saviours found itself having to urge followers to follow a backup account in case the fight with Instagram to keep the account active failed. As of the publishing of this article both @pxssypalace and @nowhitesaviors are still active on Instagram.

Instagram’s Community Guidelines claim to “want to foster a positive, diverse community.” Though its censorship record of marginalized communities who follow the vague guidelines speaks for itself.