Issue #250  5/13/2019
Hope for Changes in Instagram's Heavy-Handed Censorship

By Alex Novak

Willy Ronis, Le Nu Provencal, Gordes, 1949 (Copyright the Estate of Willy Ronis)
Willy Ronis, Le Nu Provencal, Gordes, 1949 (Copyright the Estate of Willy Ronis)

As most photographers and photo dealers/gallerists and even museums have found, the most intolerant of all media is so-called "social media". Facebook with its monopoly of other social media, such as the often-used Instagram, has often been criticized for its heavy-handed approach to nudity, even of the most innocent kind.

For instance, I was recently shadow banned for posting up major humanist photographer Willy Ronis' "Provencal, Gordes", which is perhaps his most iconic image (see it here on the website). This image is in the collections of the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Milwaukee Museum of Fine Art, just to mention two institutions. It's been published in numerous books on photography. It's also probably the most innocent photograph that I know of, given that it was taken from a distance from the rear with heavy shadows, and not much of anything shows. In another words, it actually shouldn't have been censored even by Instagram's own wacky guidelines, which are certainly rigid enough.

But that didn't prevent one puritan moderator at Instagram from not only censoring and removing the "offending" item from my IG pages, but then blocking all of my hashtags on Instagram, or shadow banning, which fundamentally means you don't get seen except for people who've already friended you. And even those may easily miss your post, since it's not showing up in the hashtag groups that they follow.

It's currently why I am not posting any additional items up on IG, and I am completely closing my account on Facebook, which I have made inactive three years ago, after all reasonable discourse disappeared there.

However, there might be hope for those of us who don't think that classic photography should be censored. After all, Facebook and its other companies don't seem to be able to check image posts for violence, terrorism and/or death. And maintaining a stranglehold on our society's freedom of speech and political discourse, misusing our personal and private information, and allowing third parties not only to use its sites for political information but profiting from this as well doesn't exactly make Facebook and Instagram the poster children for good taste and value judgment.

Right now its Chairman Mark Zuckerberg is under attack from the Left and Right, and even his former partner. All sides are calling for Facebook's monopoly stranglehold to be broken up, despite Zukerberg's most recent attempts to integrate all of his products to prevent this very thing from happening. When 2020 Presidential candidates from the Democratic Party, President Trump AND Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes are all calling for the end of Facebook's monopoly, you know the company has big problems.

So what to do? Well, it's not going to completely solve the issue, but Instagram is reportedly getting a new review panel for complaints. The platform will soon let users appeal posts that have been removed for violating its often Victorian-era standards.

According to the Daily Mail, Instagram will soon allow users to submit an appeal if they feel their content was taken down in error. As part of the new appeals process, users will be able to contest the decision to have their post removed and it may be sent to another Instagram employee for further review. The social media platform expects to roll out this feature in the next few months.

"While our reviewers receive extensive training to apply our policies accurately, we understand that we don't always get it right," said Bettina Fairman, director of community operations Instagram. "So, we'll soon be introducing the ability to request a second review if people think our reviewers have made the wrong decision."

According to the article, users will be able to appeal takedowns of posts, photos and videos. If Instagram decides to take a second look, their appeal will be handled by a different reviewer from the first person who handled it. If Instagram finds that it made a mistake, it will restore the post.

For now, users will only be able to appeal posts taken down for violating Instagram's rules around nudity--one of the most-requested areas among users, according to the firm. However, Instagram expects to open up appeals for other types of violations soon.

So maybe there will be hope after all.

By the way, we are listed as VintageWorksLtd on Instagram if you would like to follow us and our postings on both photography and wine. And this wonderful photo taken and printed by Ronis is for sale here on the website.

Novak has over 45 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Photographic Historical Society (APHS). He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, etc.