Published on November 24, 2013 | by Jenny Long



Instagram sparked controversy through censoring certain hashtags and deleting accounts with controversial photos [flickr: Jonathan Chen]

Instagram has censored more than 100 hashtags including #iPhone and #ILoveMy-Instagram, despite allowing other tags like #sexytimes and #bitch to be searched for. It is also deleting accounts with controversial photos even if they are within the guidelines.

Petra Collins, a visual artist from Canada, had her account deleted, after posting a picture of herself in bikini bottoms, with, shock horror, an unshaven bikini line.

Writing on, Collins said: “What I did have was an image of MY body that didn’t meet society’s standard of ‘femininity’.” She was reported for the photo, which then led to the deletion of her account.

She said: “The deletion felt like a physical act, like the public coming at me with a razor, sticking their finger down my throat, forcing me to cover up, forcing me to succumb to society’s image of beauty.”


Instagram’s terms of service state: “You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the service.”

Yet celebrities such as Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian), and Rihanna (@BadGalRiri) regularly post scantily-clad photos on their Instagram accounts, albeit hairless ones.

What do UAL students think of the image that led to the banned account? Alex Butchart, a second year Magazine Publishing student at LCC, said it’s “incomprehensible, that literally happens in real life”.

Hugh Jung, a third year Product Design student at CSM, said: “It’s okay but it would be better if the account was private because of young kids on Instagram.”


Hashtags like #weed, #foodgasm and #jugs have all been banned, and show search results or a ‘this tag cannot be viewed’ message. The hashtags can be used in the photo captions but won’t appear in search results.

On the other hand, there are controversial hashtags that have been banned then reinstated. For example, #thinspo (thin inspiration) was unbanned, allowing users to access photos of skinny models or text encouraging extreme thinness.

Those with eating disorders can post these images as inspiration for themselves, and for others to continue. If #thinspo is searched for on Instagram you will now be greeted by a content advisory message.

Instagram say that it “does not have any obligation to pre-screen, monitor, edit, or remove any content”, but it actively encourages users to report images that violate their terms and conditions.


Instagram’s Community Guidelines state: “Any account found encouraging or urging users to embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders, will result in a disabled account without warning.

“We believe that communication regarding these behaviours in order to create awareness, come together for support, and to facilitate recovery is important, but that Instagram is not the place for active promotion or glorification of self-harm.”

Associated tags like #anorexia and #bulimia, both pop-up with a warning message about graphic content. The captions in the photos promote eating disorders.

Other worrying hashtags include #gunsforsale, with users posting photographs of shotguns and rifles.

If you search long and hard enough, tags and pictures advertising drug sales can also be found on the app.


Although some of these tags have been banned, users will find other ways to get around the ban so that they can continue selling drugs through Instagram, before using other apps such as Whatsapp or Kik to complete the deal.

Instagram say that it “does not have any obligation to pre-screen, monitor, edit, or remove any content”, but it actively encourages users to report images that violate their terms and conditions.

With an average of 55 million photos posted a day, it would be a difficult task for Instagram to monitor each photo uploaded and shared amongst its 150 million active users.

Instagram is owned by Facebook, which has also been in the news lately for allowing a video featuring decapitation back on its website, before deciding to remove it again because of the heavy criticism it received.

Social media platforms seem to struggle to find a coherent approach to censoring content. Some hashtags that are banned on Instagram simply don’t make any sense when compared to those that are allowed.

Facebook also doesn’t seem to know what to censor on its website. It allows some graphic content, while images of bare breasts or mothers breast-feeding their children are removed.


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