Why we should be worried about Instagram's new Terms of Use

Instagram implemented new Terms of Use on December 20th, of which the updated Community Guidelines surrounding nudity and sexual activity are of particular concern.

Essentially, the new rules adhere to Facebook’s Sexual Solicitation regulations; according to which users are basically barred from posting both explicit and implicit sexual content. The new Terms of Use ban users from posting anything related to ‘attempted recruitment for adult sexual activities’, ‘explicit sexual solicitation’, or the mention of ‘sexually explicit language that goes into graphic detail beyond mere reference to a state of sexual arousal or an act of sexual intercourse’.

Who will be predominantly affected?

Whilst these terms appear to offer leeway in their vagueness, it is this very breadth of interpretation that makes them so insidious. They exert a scary level of censorship over anything deemed ‘sexual’; ranging from having an OnlyFans link in a biography, advocating for comprehensive sex education in schools, to using hashtags pertaining to sex.

Photo by Sides Imagery from Pexels

Sex positive accounts are thereby being specifically targeted by nature of their content, and risk censorship, shadow-banning or complete deactivation if their content violates the new terms by being too ‘sexual’ in nature. This is devastating for sex educators, sex-positive influencers and sex workers; who’s social media presence can form the basis of their livelihoods.

Simultaneously, the online community who rely on social media for sex education will be massively impacted by Instagram’s censorship. Sex positive platforms offer an alternative outlet for the provision of comprehensive sex education, which counters the ‘dominant misogynistic and heterosexist representations of sex and sexuality found across mainstream, corporate media’ @_steviewrites. For example, whilst the UK government has updated their Relationships and Sex Education curriculum as of this year, generations brought up on the previous curriculum were arguably provided with inadequate sex education and often sought other outlets of information, such as social media.

 

Sex workers in particular have condemned Instagram’s updated terms, arguing that the new rules only serve to further marginalise their already stigmatised and vulnerable community at a time where they are most at risk. Many sex workers have relied on their Instagram platforms for clients and exposure, and these new rules in tandem with the effects of the pandemic are frankly disastrous. Instagram’s new rules will push more sex workers into unsafe working conditions or poverty.

 

A documentary on sex work which brilliantly highlights the deadly impacts of stigma in the industry.

 

Not to mention the fact that accounts owned by individuals who occupy marginalised identities are far more likely to be flagged up, censored or deleted by Instagram’s algorithm, as shown in SaltyWorld’s ongoing investigation. ‘Racism, sexism, fatphobia, whorephobia, transphobia all contribute to whose accounts stay and who gets the boot’ @baeleche_.

The censorship and silencing of sex positive content on social media is not new (see the 2018 Tumblr ban on porn), but it is a political issue which should concern us all.