Instagrams Double Standard Community Standards

Instagram, the photo-sharing platform who’s many users have come to have a love/hate relationship with. With over 150 million users at the end of 2013, Instagram is a well-known, often controversial social network. As with any online community, there are ‘guidelines’ that govern all things ‘Instagram’ from uploading content to everything in between. However it’s the enforcement of these guidelines Instagram often finds itself in hot water over. Recently, Instagram landed in media headlines for the way the platform acted in removing one users photo, with this article drawing me in to investige further. I’ll examine, down to the nitty gritty, exactly what it is that leaves a sour aftertaste on user’s tongues.

When the platform was first launched, Instagrams’ success centred on its ability to give users new ways to connect. Instead of being asked what’s on your mind, users are encouraged to post creative, original pictures. With these pictures, came the option of adding hashtags, encouraging the creation of small networks around the hashtags’ topic. As Rakos reports, Instagram took social network sharing to the next level; becoming the first platform to give users a convenient way to instantly share content onto any other social platform.

As in any community, there are standards users are expected to adhere to, to ensure the platform remains user friendly. Just like real communities, there are ‘enforcers’; to make sure everyone is ‘playing by the rules’ and dish out whatever punishment is necessary. Before I delve in any further, I would like to point out that these guidelines aren’t exactly easy to find, unless, you’re actually looking. According to Instagram’s Help Centre, the guidelines are designed to ensure users “keep their clothes on, be respectful and have fun.” The guidelines are also there to ensure that content-posted remains in line with the rating given to the App. Users are warned if they contravene any of the guidelines, their account will be disabled and access may be discontinued without warning. Sounds fair? You upload an inappropriate photo of yourself or a photo of illegal content depicting violence, and you suffer the consequences, whatever they may be. So, how can photos like these be posted and then not removed for contravening community guidelines?


However these photos are deemed to contravene these same standards?

woman's selfie
young child

In short, the answer is that not only can I not explain it, Instagram themselves can’t or won’t either. Rossalyn Warren and Charlie Warzel, reporters for Buzzfeed News, have confronted Instagram demanding answers of why accounts such as Dan Bilzerian (strong NSFW warning) are allowed to exist and photos such as the ones above are reported and removed, almost as quickly as they are uploaded. As Caroline Moss reports, Dan Bilzerian’s Snapchat account was suspended indefinitely within 6 hours of creation, for contravening community guidelines. Snapchat expressly forbids “pornography,” an extremely broad term giving them plenty of discretion to delete and block any content in contravention of this. Not surprisingly, Bilzerian posted a snap containing a model’s bare breasts and handguns. So how can Snapchat get it right, when Instagram are so far left of center it’s not even funny?

Instagram reports they have a trained team who review posts to ensure they meet community guidelines, however declined to specify how they search for ‘violations.’ However, users who have their photos removed for allegedly contravening community guidelines report that their biggest issue is the lack of a concrete explanation. An explanation about why or what it was about the photo that resulted in a takedown. As Warren and Warzel report, which I tend to find myself in agreement with, is Instagram might be reflecting mainstream ‘norms’ and double standards rather than allowing users to truly express themselves.

Not only does Instagram find itself in dispute over content censoring, they also find themselves in traditional media headlines, thanks to the ‘Streisand Effect.’ This is a term coined to depict what happens when you try to censor something, however thanks to the expanse of the Internet, the reverse happens and more attention is lumped onto whatever you’re trying to hide. This is exactly what the team at Instagram finds themselves learning over and over again, as this isn’t Instagram’s first time in hot water over content censoring (see here). However, through Instagram’s essentially selective content censoring method, offensive content and accounts ‘slip-through,’ giving the impression Instagram are buying into the societal mantra, sex sells.

Although photos removed, such as those above, aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, it doesn’t require Instagram going to the extreme lengths that it does. If Instagram is going to be continually flooded with unrealistic photos of tiny size 6 woman pulling at their bikini strings in a seductive pose for male gratification, I’m sure we could be slightly more tolerant when it comes to creative images depicting real life events affecting everyone.