Instagram’s New Terms of Service Help Absolutely No One

No matter who the president, prime minister, or sovereign head of state is, one individual rules the online world – Mark Zuckerberg. The founder and owner of Facebook, and now Instagram, recently released new content rules for his virtual empire. Instagram’s new terms of service, effective December 20th, crackdown even more harshly on Instagram content, listing “suggestive elements”, “regional sexualized slang”, and “contextually specific or commonly sexual emojis” as terms of violation. While the social media site is already notorious for punishing users (through means of taking away accounts, shadow banning them, removing followers) at their seemingly random will, this new set of rules almost explicitly targets sex workers who use the app for marketing purposes. 

The pandemic has undoubtedly been a catalyst for the explosion of OnlyFans, a platform where creators can post nude or sexually explicit photos and videos for paid subscribers. Unfortunately, many have lost their jobs due to coronavirus, and the need for supplemental earning is higher than ever. Research has shown that women, especially women of color, have faced the brunt of the emotional and economic burden caused by the pandemicThis creates an environment ripe with possibilities for exploring sex work as a means of income

The accessibility of OnlyFans as a platform for creators to sell content is undeniable. One of the site’s most unique aspects is that they have a team of lawyers who ensure the content that creators post is not leaked or distributed for free. This means that the exploitation factor is very low for creators- their content can only be consumed by paid subscribers. Yet, this means that creators have to turn elsewhere to promote their OnlyFans profile and must rely on other social media networks – TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter – to gain a following in hopes that ‘fans’ will eventually purchase a subscription. Of course, these creators are not posting the kind of explicit content they would on OnlyFans; Instagram will ban accounts for even putting the link to their OnlyFans profile on an Instagram post or bio, never mind a sexual video clip. Unless you’re an existing celebrity, self-promotion on social media is the lifeblood of online sex work. Instagram already makes it difficult to work around their existing rules, and these terms will only make it harder, critically draining the livelihoods of thousands of sex workers, who are majority women. 

Instagram doesn’t only discriminate against sex workers. In fact, the site has had a long and storied history of targeting female, black, queer, and plus-sized influencers. Instagram’s existing ‘algorithm bias’5, a euphemism for programmed discrimination, will undoubtedly exacerbate the penalization of femme creators, specifically black creators under the new rules. 

There is evidence that this algorithm bias is already working swiftly without Instagram’s harsher rules; in August, a photo of plus-sized black woman Nyome Nicholas-Williams was removed from a professional photographer’s account for violations of Instagram’s terms of service. There was nothing ‘sexual’ about the shirtless photo. The photographer who shot the photo responded, saying “I have posted photos of many more women – white women – who had [fewer] clothes on than Nyome that never got reported or deleted…what is it about a plus-size black woman’s body that is so offensive and so sexualized? The Playboy [Instagram] feed is filled with naked white models and it’s all for the male gaze, which is the opposite of what I do, and they’re allowed to stay”5. In a country where black women are already oversexualized in all aspects of life (especially in the media), they will now be forced to accept additional emotional, financial, and social consequences on social media imposed by the czars of Silicon Valley. 

Two months prior, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri acknowledged the company’s technological bias, admitting that he had been “hearing concerns about whether we suppress black voices and whether our products and policies treat everyone equally”. If Instagram’s previous terms of service can’t decipher between artistic versus sexual content, provocative nudity versus body positivity, and business promotion versus sexual solicitation, there are very low hopes for any kind of progress towards a more equitable future on Instagram after December 20th. 

It’s truly ironic that a decade ago Facebook started as a website for Zuckerberg to rate his female peers. Now that women across the world have decided to monetize that same misogyny, he’s shutting them out and taking away their platform. 

Below is the image of Nyome Nicholas-Williams that was repeatedly taken down from photographer Alexa Cameron’s Instagram account.

By Laura Goodfield

(Laura Goodfield, a member of “Generation Z”, seeks to make sense of the increasingly virtual world in which she was born into. She is specifically interested in how patriarchal and capitalist structures persist on social media platforms. )

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Alexandra Cameron)