Saturday, October 16, 2021

Why it’s hard to change the ‘instapocalypse’ on Instagram

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Just when you thought Instagram had finally hit the kill switch on body shamers, the platform is back at it. This week, a brand called the Universal Slutbag performed an art piece that displayed inflatable dolls of female body types on its Facebook page — and some people couldn’t cope.

Not long after the performance, though, the site deleted the images. It took six days for Instagram to remove the page completely. (The hashtag, meanwhile, still exists.) The National Eating Disorders Association accused the platform of abandoning its values of equality and inclusivity. And bloggers, including Jorie Graham of Pretty Genius, started a #InstaFail hashtag in an effort to shine a light on the platform’s continuing challenge on eliminating body shaming and negative images of women.

But the truth is, Instagram’s handlers likely have very little power to change the fundamental nature of the platform, which relies on its more than 100 million users to behave in a certain way and which means some parts of the service are probably unrepairable.

Ultimately, Instagram’s newest crisis illustrates the difficult challenge of predicting the behavior of its users — and consequently its ability to change them. The platform has several elements of algorithmic content recommendation, but what would one call “provocation” or “insult”? (Instagram: Mark Zuckerberg personally approved the Universal Slutbag art project but later said “You guys created this hashtag.”)

Earlier this year, Instagram placed a 90-day block on users who posted photos of their full-length naked breasts and genitals — and which of them gets banned more often? (I would nominate the more ambiguous “provocation.”) Because under the current terms of service, Instagram can claim a broad interpretation of what constitutes “pornography.” Its current characterization might include, for example, a post that shows a cartoonish amount of skin and the words “bikini” and “bra” next to each other. Even assuming a wide interpretation of what’s allowed, that policy is far from clear-cut, and it’s certainly hard to draw any sort of bright line between suggestive and hurtful.

Recent research from the National Center for Healthy Youth suggests that young people not only see nudity on social media as just another part of a common experience, they also believe they should have more control over what they share, and more control over the images in their lives.

In the wake of #InstaFail, other users are taking to the site to share their first thoughts. One post includes two photos of nipples, slightly more in each, with the note: “Like I wouldn’t take that down,” and another with “Hey Instagram: Keep it up with the body shaming! Kindly?? 🙄 lol.”

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