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Earlier this week, influencer Erika Altes got a notification on her Instagram account @whiskeyandlace that stunned her.
“Losing access to the link sticker,” it read. “Starting October 25, you will no longer have access to the link sticker because you have shared content that violates our community guidelines.”
Erika was instantly terrified. Without link stickers — the platform’s replacement for the “swipe up” feature it just retired — her income from Instagram is in jeopardy. Using them in stories makes it much easier to share affiliate links, where influencers get a commission off each sale made through their link, as well as links to ads they do with brands. Instead, Erika would only be able to share a clickable link through her bio, which results in a much lower click-through rate.
Erika is not alone. Many creators are complaining they have gotten the same message this week. While Instagram insisted the move is meant to punish creators who have repeatedly and flagrantly violated its community guidelines, many influencers who got the notice have told me they have only ever been flagged once or a few times, and often for content that was not obviously harmful but was said in jest or was nuanced. Creators can appeal when their content is flagged, but there is not yet a way for them to contest the link sticker ban.
The first group to raise the alarm about the ban was creators in adult entertainment and other fringe industries, such as provocative art, who often have to battle with Instagram to keep their accounts alive. As Vice wrote earlier this week, these creators see it as “just the latest move from a company that discriminates against sex workers.”
An Instagram spokesperson told me that the ban was enacted on creators who “repeatedly or severely violated” its community guidelines as a way to “limit the spread of harmful content.” So, creators are ostensibly being banned for either going against the guidelines many times or doing something so egregious that it warrants an immediate ban.
However, many influencers insist that isn’t how it’s actually being used.
Erika, for example, says she has been flagged for two posts. In one case, she says she got dinged for hate speech after saying “boys are so gross” on a photo of her brother. In another, she says she got reprimanded for attempting to “incite violence” for saying she wanted to burn her house down after finding a dead mouse in her Yeti cooler.
Some creators say they only had one violation. Ailsa Emmel of @_happygocurly_ says she got the notification due to one photo she’d posted of kids waist up in a bath that was removed for “nudity or sexual activity.” Jess Bonds, of @pacificnorthjess_, also had one violation, for a video of herself playfully slapping a friend’s boob that was taken down for “bullying/harassment.”
When I asked about these examples and others, the spokesperson said Instagram is looking into the claims.
“We're investigating an issue where people may have mistakenly been notified that they will be restricted, and we're working on resolving this as soon as possible,” they said.
This whole thing is rather confusing. While it’s admirable that Instagram is taking measures to ensure people actually play by the rules, I wonder if it's being executed in a way that’s fair.
It feels unnecessarily punitive to punish someone for a photo of a child in a bathtub, for example, when that kind of content is all over Instagram. Furthermore, a bathtub photo (or a photo of a toddler in a diaper, which Bethanie Garcia of @thegarciadiaries has been flagged for) is not necessarily explicit, and a determination of that kind requires a nuanced examination of each photo. Other examples, if the influencers are right, appear to be part of an attempt to cut down on genuine hate speech that’s catching harmless examples in its dragnet.
To enforce this specific punishment, which greatly affects the income of creators, without warning and without an ability to appeal, also doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me.
“I’ve had followers DM me and comment on my stuff with the most vile, hateful things, and this is what I am potentially getting my livelihood taken away for,” Erika said. “Punishment doesn’t fit if you ask me.”