How does Instagram censor hashtags?

Cara Delevingne

How are hashtags blocked?

  • (semi-)Permanent blocks: some hashtags are very blocked. They return a 404 error page:
An example of a blocked hashtag page
  • New posts moderated: Some tags are apparently only temporarily blocked. For these hashtags, Instagram shows ‘top posts’ but not ‘new posts’:
An example of a moderated hashtag page.
  • “No posts yet” error message: for some tags, Instagram simply says that there are no relevant photos — but it’s clear that many photos have in fact been tagged. This one is strange; it’s not clear why Instagram does this.
An example of a hashtag with many tagged photos that returns a “No posts yet” error message.
  • Content warning: the least restrictive category of blocking, Instagram attaches a click-through content warning to some posts:
An example of a content warning on a hashtag

Why are hashtags blocked?

Next steps

  • Measuring bias: is there any truth in allegations that Instagram exhibits signs of systematic editorial bias against particular types of content? For example, does it disproportionately censor tags that might be used to promote positive body image, while not censoring tags that are used to shame womens’ bodies?
  • Tracking legitimacy: Instagram plays an important role in mediating how we communicate with each other. Like other social media platforms, many users believe that Instagram should at least enforce its rules about content fairly. We will try to identify how consistently Instagram’s rules are applied. Because Instagram blocks at a hashtag level, it will often block legitimate content in its efforts to block prohibited material. We try to understand how often this happens, how much of a problem it causes, and how mistakes are corrected when they are found.



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