LGBTQ people not safe on social media, including Instagram

Dylan Grosser, Columnist

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The Washington Blade reported in 2018 on an incident where a picture of a same-sex couple kissing on Instagram was taken down as a result of it violating “community guidelines,” which sparked outcry in the LGBTQ community and condemnation (aimed at Instagram) from celebrities such as Olly Alexander and Jade Thirlwall. The action was labeled homophobic on the part of the social media company, even after they reversed the decision, calling it an “error.”

A somewhat similar episode was reported by Joe Putignano, a gay Cirque du Soleil acrobat, who wrote in an article on HuffPost that he suffered frequent homophobic cyber-bullying on his Instagram account, which at one point resulted in his profile getting deleted because of how often it would be falsely reported by trolls (or perhaps one troll with multiple fake accounts). Putignano’s account was reinstated after the article was published.

It’s unsurprising to see how Instagram has had a tumultuous relationship with the LGBTQ community in recent years. In 2017, the Daily Dot reported a leaked list of “banned” hashtags for the platform, which included #gay, #iamgay, #lesbian, #bi, among others. And with the rumored implementation of “shadow banning,” some claim the feature could be used to inconspicuously censor LGBTQ content further.

Some may argue that the problem comes from the homophobic people who abuse the platform, and not Instagram itself. This is partly true, as the issue of LGBTQ content being taken down typically comes from users intentionally wrongfully flagging it, resulting in it being taken down automatically. But it is because of this incompetent oversight over the reporting system that Instagram is complicit in this homophobia.

Without any assurance of specific protections against this known, particular kind of hateful attack, Instagram is just as in the wrong in this phenomenon as the trolls. While Instagram as a company has said they are in favor of the rights of LGBTQ people, the technology is clearly not.

Many take issue with the idea of LGBTQ identity being classified as innately “inappropriate,” “perverse” or “NSFW,” which is implied in these bans. This specific designation has historically been offensive against LGBTQ people, used as a way of legitimizing discrimination. To perpetuate this idea has consequences beyond social media and into the real world treatment of LGBTQ people.

One reason it’s important to stop this abuse is that living as an LGBTQ person can be difficult if you don’t know anyone with a similar identity as you — who could have similar interests or perhaps faced similar hardships. Social media platforms can help those people find each other when it would be otherwise difficult. They also can help people share the stories of their identities, which can inspire the courage for another person to come out as well.

This is why it’s important for Instagram, and of course other social media platforms, to rapidly increase efforts to protect LGBTQ people from harassment. The right for LGBTQ people to not be attacked purely on their gender or sexuality is inalienable, yet under the current reporting systems of Instagram, it is frequently permitted.

The popularity of Instagram with younger people makes this cause even more important, as to set an example for how LGBTQ people deserve to forever exist and be seen. The reckless disregard for the implications of this inadequate reporting system, that can and has been abused to remove LGBTQ content, has the potential to damage progress made on the rights of LGBTQ people everywhere. Without their visibility, attempts to once again denounce or even deny their existence will become even more commonplace than it already is in the world.