Online Censorship Gains Momentum With Instagram's New Policy

Online Censorship Gains Momentum With Instagram's New Policy

CYBERSPACE —  “Reduce, remove, inform” is the name of the game over at Facebook and as of this week, they’ve introduced more policy designed to ensure that the content they recommend to people “is both safe and appropriate for the community,” as per their company newsroom.

At a press conference held at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters, execs announced the beefed up policies, specifically targeting and seeking to quell the spread of “posts that are inappropriate but do not go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines.” 

The company announced that it would no longer recommend “borderline” material to the Instagram community at large. “For example,” they said, “a sexually suggestive post will still appear in Feed if you follow the account that posts it, but this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore or hashtag pages.”

What this means of course is that Facebook and its subsidiaries, most notably Instagram, are effectively tightening their grip on the throats of "edgy" content creators, suffocating them into obscurity if they should post anything deemed to fall along a murky “borderline.” 

While it seems reasonable for Facebook to want to censor graphic material, hate speech and fake news, this new policy, which essentially codifies “demoting” content as a tactic the company is willing to engage in, is — simply put — a massive step backwards for freedom of expression in the online world.

As TechCrunch reported, what this new policy means is that “if a post is sexually suggestive, but doesn’t depict a sex act or nudity, it could still get demoted. Similarly, if a meme doesn’t constitute hate speech or harassment, but is considered in bad taste, lewd, violent or hurtful, it could get fewer views.”

Instagram’s product lead for Discovery, Will Ruben, confirmed that the company is “training its content moderators to label borderline content when they’re hunting down policy violations,” with the purpose of subsequently training an algorithm to eventually do the same. 

By throttling accounts’ visibility on the Explore page and hashtag searches, Instagram will effectively render undesirable content near undiscoverable to anyone who isn’t specifically looking for it. 

While Facebook and Instagram have every right to decide what content they recommend to their users, this particular move seems to only feed the growing machine that is online censorship.

The ambiguity surrounding how Instagram determines what is and isn’t appropriate is really at the heart of the matter in this case. We have to question: where will the line be drawn? While most people can agree that we should be seeking to combat the spread of misinformation and violent images, we have to consider that this new policy will likely wind up sexualizing certain types of images and stifling the spread of sexual health and wellness information.

For a company that originally set out to “capture and share the world’s moments,” to now nitpick and only recommend content which passes its self-imposed censors is tragically ironic.