Whether it’s a problem with artificial intelligence policing content or biases by human reviewers, on Instagram, LGBTQ+ people and sex education accounts appear to be at a higher rate of being partially blocked by users on Instagram than other accounts that post similar heterosexual content.
That blocking of content is referred to as shadowbanning. Instagram's parent company, Meta, calls shadowbanned posts "non-recommendable" content, Mashable reports.
Accounts throttled with such a limit won’t be shown to users other than followers. As a result, creators whose content is flagged will not appear on Instagram’s Explore page, Feed Recommendations, or Reels, according to the outlet. It may also mean that users cannot search for the account. As of last December, there was no way of knowing whether one was subject to a shadow ban or not.
It then updated its functionality to notify professional creators when their user IDs were shadowbanned. Users began receiving a notification declaring, "Your account can’t be shown to non-followers.”
Topher Taylor, a creator with expertise in sexuality and who makes sex toys, told Mashable that Instagram had categorized his account as non-recommendable for years because he shared educational information about sex and toys.
Upon receiving notification of the account’s limitations, he appealed, winning, which immediately extended his reach and enabled him to distribute his content more widely. He said antigay comments and reports from bigoted users likely contributed to his account’s disablement, deletion, or limitation over time.
“You will get more reports if you’re visibly queer,” he remarked.
However, there is a double standard for content aimed at straight (mostly male) audiences.
“Even though Instagram supposedly allows for artistic representations of nudity, many users have observed that large accounts that promote the male gaze (i.e., Playboy, Kardashians) can get away with explicit nudity, while queer, non-white, and feminist creators are more likely to have their accounts hidden from non-followers,” according to Annie Brown, a professor at UC San Diego and founder of Reliabl, a content moderation service for social networks.
As well as being shadowbanned, many of these accounts – often accounts with LGBTQ+ content — often see their posts removed for violating community guidelines — many of them for nudity or “sexual solicitation.”
Instagram’s silencing of queer voices in this way, intentionally or inadvertently, is alarming, especially when, as GLAAD found, being online has become more dangerous for LGBTQ+ people.
“In a time where the mere expression of queer joy is becoming more dangerous, even deadly,” visual artist Michael Kerschner, who posts queer art on his Instagram page @queeringbeauty, said, according to Mashable. “It feels like an ominous practice for Instagram to play the role of arbiter of what society is willing to tolerate.”