In March of 2021, my Instagram account, @soaking wet angel, was disabled for the first time. I, like other meme administrators, create memes as well as collect and repost photos found elsewhere on the internet. We are all constantly on the verge of becoming incapacitated.
Initially, the account was managed by two of us, but as you’ll see, it was quite stressful for something so relatively simple. My friend is no longer active on the page, but she did post as “cake admin” during her time there. I used the handle “Arab admin” on @soaking wet angel 1, @soaking wet angel 2, @soaking wet angel 3, and finally @soaking wet angel 4.
My accounts are frequently disabled. “Irreverent, chaotic, and capable of reconciling zoomers and millennials during a nuclear war,” one commentator said of my posts. That, I believe, is a fair judgment.
My account was first suspended after I made a satirical imitation of Coachella’s lineup poster, which featured other meme pages instead of the regular musical performers. On Instagram, different versions were posted constantly, and most accounts remained unaffected, but mine was disabled for over a month due to “solicitation.” I’m not sure what I was supposed to be soliciting, but the account I built up to 21,000 followers in a year was mysteriously shut down, as were my plans to create a merch business.
Instagram accounts that have been disabled are in a state of limbo that may never end. You can appeal if your account is disabled, however, appeals frequently go unanswered. You will not be able to recover your account if Instagram decides to deactivate it.
My accounts have been disabled five times since March. One backup of an innocent image of a father kissing a baby’s head was actually destroyed as I was writing this post. I’m not making this up. I guess it’s adios to another 14,000 followers. Nothing happens no matter how many pleas I send. I’m never sure why my account is suspended, although I always strive to follow Instagram’s ambiguous community guidelines. Instagram has yet to respond to repeated requests for comment on this topic, but when they do, they usually say something along the lines of, “Instagram has a responsibility to keep people safe.” While this may be true, how does blocking an account for posting a Coachella meme contribute to keeping people safe?
This is not a one-of-a-kind experience for me: “Removed in 2020” (NSFW) is a website that features a big collection of photographs posted by Instagram users whose accounts have been deleted for alleged infractions. After just a few seconds of scrolling, it’s clear that the violation system is broken. The photographs range from complete nuance to neutral vases. In a nutshell, it’s disjointed and nonsensical.
If you’ve been following meme pages or other creators, you’re probably aware of this story. Because of how frequently they’re targeted, most meme pages have a “backup” account indicated in their bio, and while it may seem stupid to try to maintain a following, keep in mind that many of the authors behind these pages monetize their work to some extent.
I spoke with Krister Larson, a 28-year-old tattoo artist from Berlin who uses the handle @neurodivergent bussy to post memes and has had two other accounts, @girl storage and @girl storag3, deleted, resulting in a total loss of 40,000 followers. Larson claims that his deletions have had an impact on his real-world business. He posts pictures of his tattoos on his meme accounts, inviting fans to interact with them—which they do.
“Fortunately, my tattoo account hasn’t been deleted,” he said, “but I’ve heard horror stories of other tattoo artists’ accounts being shut down for photographs of their clients’ nipples, with much of uncertainty regarding Instagram’s ‘nudity in art’ regulation.”
He, like me, has contacted Instagram, submitted appeals, and asked for reviews, but has received no response.
An Instagram spokeswoman told BuzzFeed News in August that the account for Julia Rose’s magazine, Shag Mag, had been banned. According to the representative, Instagram is working to strengthen its internal review mechanism so that bans are enforced more evenly. It’s evident that this has been a problem for some time, and Instagram appears to be well aware of the difficulties it’s giving some of its high-profile users. However, later that month, the business declared that accounts that send abusive direct messages would face harsher sanctions. It’s crucial to protect people from online bullying and abuse, but these measures will only be as effective as Instagram’s willingness to define abuse. Because they don’t say how they define it, all accounts are left in the dark and thus vulnerable to being disabled.
Larson’s @girl storag3 account was blocked before he could post a meme that said, “I am not a close friend of yours. I’m an anonymous meme page administrator who you’ve never met before.” It was found guilty of “hate speech and bullying.” Once again, the issue stems from Instagram’s ambiguous community guidelines. What exactly qualifies as bullying, and what qualifies as non-bullying? Anything and everything could be included if they don’t define it. Based on their August notification concerning abuse infractions, Instagram appears to be aware of this but leaves the term open.
Surprisingly, some meme accounts are unaffected by Instagram’s stringent and perplexing violation algorithms. “Potheads will find ANY REASON to smoke.. ‘Damn that bitch ugly, let me roll up,'” one, @patiasfantasyworld, remarked in a meme earlier this month. That same meme was taken down a month ago due to “harassment and bullying.” I sought to appeal the violation, but it was turned down. The meme, however, stayed on their account. My inquiries for a response from @patiasfantasyworld were not answered.
I also spoke with Simon Jackson, the curator of @Our.Community.Guidelines in Montreal. Larson echoed Simon’s sentiments, saying, “Instagram’s policies are clearly structured to protect the company’s financial interests at the expense of users. The guidelines, as well as their interpretation and application, are ludicrous. To emphasize how ludicrous it is to try to get corporate lawyers to understand and restrict visual symbols, I titled my account @our.community.guidelines.”
While some artists are struggling financially and rely on Instagram recommendations for art sales, retail, or other revenue streams, keep in mind that Instagram is worth over $100 billion, as Simon pointed out.
The financial consequences of repeated deletion aren’t the only ones. Instagram is a popular social media platform. “Simon stated,” “I rely on Instagram for a number of things, including access to my friends, chats, possibilities, and self-expression, which makes the dependency appear even more frightening… When they offer their advertisers instant access to our data and wallets, they have great control over consumers if they possess our friendships.”
Meme administrators should look into alternative apps until Instagram clarifies their community guidelines and explains why certain users have been penalized for content that others are not. A large-scale meme exodus may be the only way to force Instagram to listen to its users’ long-standing complaints.
Information Source: Mashable
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