My reference to the Hokey Cokey, an old campfire song, seems appropriate this month – a light-touch-alert to the revolving door of my position on Instagram.
I can experience being in, then out, of a shadow-ban within a few days. This is pretty wild.
It has now even happened twice with the same post – I was shadow-banned, then un-shadow-banned, then re-shadow-banned for the same thing, without doing anything at all to the actual content.
I made a Reel about the statistics, so you can see what actually happens on my engagement and how much of an impact this has. It’s pretty bonkers and you can see that particular Reel here. It’s been played over 17 hours – worth, and shared by some awesome activists doing work in this subject. Thank you Carolina Are @bloggeronpole and Emma Shapiro @dontdeleteart for your helpful comments and support.
I now have conversations all the time about censorship. And my work isn’t even really about that, but it’s become embedded into what I’m trying to talk about. Because sexism and misogyny on / in / throughout social media is writ-large. This isn’t about my individualised problem. This is about unequal power structures fundamentally changing the relationship of how we look at things.
This is not a new problem. It’s a very old problem.
Instagram guidelines say they accept appropriate imagery. Nudity isn’t allowed except for what they list as follows: post-mastectomy scarring, women actively breastfeeding, nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures.
Instagram (and, I guess, all the other platforms) use technology to ‘protect’ community, based on guidelines that seem to be constructed around some sort of ‘bottom line’ global acceptability. You could say they are using AI to keep morality intact. But the way this works on the body in practice is that technology is literally learning what to discriminate against. We know AI is a tool that teaches itself through what it is doing. So people could be reporting your post ‘for a laugh’ which then gives the AI a learning opportunity. It learns what to show and what not to show. These activities are literally building how we see collectively. We are part of a mass experiment that hasn’t been through an ethics committee…. Well…. maybe it has…Instagram say they’ve spent ‘a lot of time thinking about the different points of view that create a safe and open environment for everyone’. I don’t know what that means, or who has spent a lot of time thinking about it. I didn’t elect them. It is the largest publicly traded company in the world but they’re not a government.
So – this situation is what they actually want? Oh, OK. Move along, nothing more to see here.
This isn’t about whether or not you can see a bit of side boob, a nipple, or some pubic hair.
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. “
I re-read Audre Lorde’s essay and was reminded about the purpose of not upholding what you don’t agree with through saying nothing…The words reverberate across time and place, drawing attention to the power/powerless dynamic that runs throughout all of what we do. I’m not sure what to do about it in my individualised situation. I’m a white woman, making art, and I sew into my art, to make works which make ideas visible – to try and articulate complex feelings, big maternal love stories, a notion of the cosmos. I think this is important….Do we have any sort of social power if we participate in these structures, telling our own stories within a framework while rejecting the stories they shape us to tell? Isn’t that just using the same tools?
How many avenues are there to disseminate this before I run out of time? And how much time do I spend trying to make a space within them for my work? What is the purpose of me doing this? I think of community, and how these spaces have co-opted the very idea…the exact notion of what community is – and then manipulates it to commodify it. We are, perhaps, in a contemporary variation of what Stan Cohen described in his 1970s theory of Folk Devils and Moral Panic, taking into account the media we are using. I feel more and more trapped in an every-day bafflement attached to flashing a nipple.
How do we do our work here to leave something of genuine meaning? Is that even possible?