Instagram is often announcing new policies and programs to make their platform more safe. In my recent experience they have failed to protect a transgender teenager. This teenager was in immediate danger and their own precious voice was silenced while the attacker ran about freely with Instagram’s implicit endorsement.
As someone who does photography on the side and used to be a photojournalist, I enjoy Instagram. It is an important marketing tool for me. I interact with photographers and models around the world. We not only become friends, but we collaborate professionally.
I spend less and less time on Facebook. It has gotten in the way of my emotional health. It has also become a space where I have no ability to defend myself or those I love.
My feed is limited. It is mostly other artists and models. Because of my role locally, I know quite a few young people who are LGBTQIA+. So they are on my feed as well.
What I Saw On Instagram
The other day I was casually scrolling through my feed and I saw something that did not seem right on a transgender teenager’s page. We will call them Sam for this story. Someone had come to Sam’s page to harass them. Sam did the right thing and blocked the person.
In response to the blocking, the bully doxxed Sam. The bully put up a picture of Sam and their account, tagged them by name, outed them as trans, and said horrific things about Sam and transgender people. The bully also posted a graphic and degrading meme involving the genitals of trans people.
Sam, now doxxed, outed and tagged to be harassed by others went into lock down mode and made their page private. All of Sam’s original art that is beautiful. All of their friends and memories. The beauty that Sam shares was stifled while sarcasm and hate got to roam free.
Instagram’s Response to Reporting the Harm
I reached out to Sam to make sure they were okay. They were shaken up and upset, but was trying to maintain good composure. I asked Sam if they reported it. They said yes. I commended them for handling the situation well and asked if they received a response yet. They said Instagram sent them a message saying that it was not in violation of terms of service.
I read the terms. I looked at the content. This was impossible. There is no way a human being could ever look at what was posted, what was said in the comments by the bully, and not view it as bullying, harassment, and endangering of another human being. Especially a teenager.
Taking matters into my own hands, I made my own reports against the user’s posts attacking Sam and transgender people in general. Within a day I got a 2 replies from Instagram that both read the same:
“Thank you for taking the time to report [username]’s account. While we reviewed the account you reported for harassment or bullying and found it does not violate our Community Guideline, reports like yours are an important part of making Instagram a safe and welcome place for everyone.”
I had no opportunity to give context, appeal, explain, or communicate. So I looked online to find ways to contact Instagram representatives in another fashion. I tried their Facebook page and their info email account.
The Facebook post remains without a reply. The email in which I expressed the sense of urgency in this matter did get a reply. The reply came from a Facebook email.
You’ve reached us at a channel that we no longer support. Please visit the Help Center to find answers to many frequently asked questions and up-to-date forms you can use to contact us:
We apologize for the inconvenience.
The Instagram Team”
It is not unreasonable to call the pictured response as Instagram’s endorsement to doxxing and hate speech. At the point you claim doxxing and hate speech does not violate community standards, you endorse the speech as acceptable. That is the message rape victims, minorities and LGBTQIA+ people receive from Instagram when they reply in this fashion. That is Sam’s understanding.
I checked in on Sam again and told Sam what I was experiencing. Sam was resigned and told me it is not the first time they have had to abandon publicly sharing their art and perspective on social media. Sam went on to tell me this was likely a person from their high school who has given them a hard time for years.
This was infuriating. I called a phone number to Instagram that I found online and it led to never getting a human being.
I reported the posts again. And then I did it again. I do not remember how many times I did this. Another day passed and one of the posts was taken down. The anti trans meme was taken down. But the doxxing post with a photo of Sam was still up. I never got a response on that report, but it was taken down a day later.
I reached out to Sam and said that after numerous reports the posts had been removed. Sam told me that they knew about it. Sam’s friends has been reporting the post as well.
This took more than three days.
Three days of a teenager’s safety compromised.
Three days of being outed and mocked.
Three days of danger.
Three days of pain.
In three days a voice had been silenced. The other user still has an account, has racist posts still up, and hurts teenagers and others. People like that continue. They share that value. They do so without fear and virtually without consequence. These three days happen every day. How often do victims or loved ones of victims give up after the first attempt? How many people have suffered suicidal thoughts because of the message Instagram and other social media groups send?
Sam? Sam is still on lock down on Instagram and probably will be for some time. What has the public lost? Sam posted beautiful pictures they took. Sam posted drawing and paintings they created. This beautiful young person presented exactly what Instagram is supposed to represent. Sam’s virtual voice is silenced. The bully still gets to post unoriginal memes that demean people.
Instagram and other social media put minorities, women and LGBTQIA+ people in this position all too often.