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Users Accuse Instagram of Censoring Hashtags About Sex Work and Women

Sex worker advocates are taking to social media to decry Instagram's reported censorship of words like #woman and #femalestrippers as yet another example of harmfully targeting sex workers in the wake of SESTA/FOSTA.

by Leila Ettachfini
May 29 2018, 9:15pm

Instagram is reportedly hiding posts from some users under hashtags like #woman, #strippers, #femalestrippers, and #sexworkersrightsday—while hashtags like #man and #malestrippers remain uncensored. Under the censored hashtags, the space where photos usually appear is replaced by text that reads, "Top posts from [insert hashtag] are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram's community deadlines."

In the past few days, some social media users have taken to Instagram and Twitter to voice their frustrations, posting screenshots of the hidden hashtag pages and tagging Instagram to ask why #woman is censored while #man isn’t. Some users have responded to the topic on Twitter threads to say that the hashtags seem to remain uncensored on their accounts. Broadly reached out to Instagram for comment, but the company did not respond before the publication of this article. We will add an update to this post with their response if we hear back.

Many who are vocal about the platform’s censorship, like Jacq the Stripper (@JacqTheStripper) and Betty Bounce (@blunt_kunt), are advocates for sex workers, and numerous accounts have linked Instagram’s actions to the larger pattern of targeting sex workers since the passing of the SESTA/FOSTA bills last month. FOSTA (the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) make websites liable for what users say and do on their platforms, causing platforms to preemptively shutter or censor forums or entire sites where sex trafficking could feasibly happen (including the Craigslist personals page). Even before the passing of these bills, sex workers overwhelmingly warned that they would do more harm than good; and now, sex workers are reporting the devastating effects, like being forced to return to dangerous pimps.

Instagram’s reported censorship of the hashtag #woman—and of any hashtag even tangentially related to female sex workers—comes less than a week before the national day of lobbying on June 1 and International Whores’ Day on June 2.

“Hey @instagram - explain to me how you find the word woman offensive, dangerous, and worthy of censorship,” wrote Twitter user Susannah (@lanuovasuzy). “Surely you cannot believe #woman is the same as #sextrafficking. THIS is why SO MANY women fought against the draconian and misogynistic SESTA/FOSTA.”

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Journalist and stripper Reese Piper also took to Twitter to voice her frustrations and explain why censoring these hashtags is harmful. “Instagram is shadowbanning stripper hashtags,” she wrote. “The ability to share info publicly is a survival tool. Without access to public strippers, I would have never learned techniques on how to stay safe in the industry. We live in silence - the internet is our only place to congregate.”