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Instagram’s New Terms of Use Accused of Targeting Sex Workers

Why you should care about Instagram’s new rules…

Pixabay / Solen Feyissa

You know that long list of legally binding terms and conditions that you click “agree” on when you sign up for any social media platform? Well, Instagram’s latest changes to their community guidelines prove that Terms of Use really are worth reading.

Amid a class action lawsuit faced by Instagram’s parent company for alleged illegal harvesting of users’ biometric data without their knowledge or consent, the photo and video sharing social networking service drew further criticism for its newest Terms of Use.

The platform needing to adhere to Facebook’s Sexual Solicitation rules is not a new development and, indeed, Instagram claim that this update will not affect the enforcement of such policies.

Stating that “nothing will change” does not offer much reassurance for those who have been unfairly targeted by Instagram’s censorship for years. 

Salty – an online newsletter for women, trans, and nonbinary people – conducted an investigation into algorithmic bias in 2019 and found that “queer folx and women of color are policed at a higher rate than the general population” and “plus-sized and body-positive profiles were often flagged for ‘sexual solicitation’ or ‘excessive nudity’.”

For sex workers, educators, and professionals who already spend their time attempting to avoid the elusive ‘shadowban’ which threatens to mute your content and kill your account’s engagement, these new rules just seem like a further crackdown on behalf of Instagram.

What are Instagram’s new guidelines?

Instagram states that they don’t allow people to “facilitate, encourage or coordinate sexual activity” on the platform.

According to the Terms of Use, sexual activities include:

  • Filmed sexual activities and porn
  • Sexual, erotic or tantric messages
  • Offering or asking for sex or nude images
  • Sexualised slang, hints or suggestive statements
  • Language that describes sex or arousal

Who will this affect?

Most obviously, sex workers. Instagram is a notoriously sex negative space which has been targeting this already marginalised community since FOSTA-SESTA became US law in 2018.

During a global pandemic characterised by increased physical and social isolation and in the absence of government aid, these new regulations threaten one of the few means of income currently available for sex workers. Social media has been particularly important for SWs to circulate mutual aid efforts.

Secondly, sex educators and professionals will feel the impact of these new rules which dictate that Instagram users cannot even describe the act of sex or arousal.

If you think that sounds ridiculous, you’re not the only one. Taylor Sparks, sex educator and founder of online intimacy shop Organic Loven, told Mashable that such policing of sexual content can threaten sex worker safety and make comprehensive sex ed resources less readily available online.

“Instagram and Facebook guidelines will have sex educators, tantric coaches and professional Dommes walking on eggshells because you don’t know if those monitoring your page will consider the word penis or dick more offensive”

Taylor Sparks

As @janis_therapy points out on Instagram, it is also likely that we will continue to see fat positive activists, black and brown sex workers/professionals, and trans and GNC educators have their accounts deleted or shadowbanned at a disproportionate rate to their cis, white, or “conventionally attractive” counterparts.

What can you do to help?

You may have seen calls of #boycottinstagram floating around social media though others quickly pointed out that sex workers and educators logging out and being silent is exactly what Instagram would like. 

Rather, you might wish to:

  • save, like, and share posts from your favourite pages to help them avoid shadowbanning
  • proactively seek out other ways of keeping in contact with your favourite workers, educators, and influencers (e.g. sign up for mailing lists, look into other platforms like Patreon or OnlyFans)
  • tip your favourite workers, educators, and professionals and donate to mutual aid funds
  • educate yourself on FOSTA-SESTA and EARN IT

(suggested by @thesexpottherapist and @janis_therapy on Instagram)

Ultimately, as Taylor Sparks says, restricting basic sexuality does more harm than good!

So, if the rights of sex workers and access to accurate and inclusive sex education matters to you, you should be paying attention to Instagram’s new Terms of Use and similar changes across social media.

Read more: Facebook On Trial For Censoring French Vagina Painting

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