Your Post Has Been Disabled Due to Eggplants, Nipples and Trump!
In early July of this year, Instagram quietly released a new tool to its high profile users such as businesses and celebrities. The tool allowed users to automatically block comments containing words, themes or even emojis which have frequently been reported as “offensive content.” Additionally, the feature allows users to form a custom list of words they don’t want themselves or their followers to see in the comments on their pictures. As of September 12th, the feature has been extended to anyone using Instagram. Instagram CEO and Co-founder, Kevin Systrom, announced the update via Instagram’s blog stating, “The beauty of the Instagram community is the diversity of its members. All different types of people — from diverse backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and more — call Instagram home, but sometimes the comments on their posts can be unkind. To empower each individual, we need to promote a culture where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment.” If you go into your settings on your profile you will find a new “comments” tool where you can enable this feature.
Many rejoice and thank Instagram for furthering its movement against cyber-bullying and offensive content, no doubt a noble cause. Nevertheless, I find myself wondering if once again has an entity with a lot of power gone too far in its censoring of users’ content? Take, for example, model Christine Teigen’s tweet unveiling her list of undesirable words. Slut shaming is a well known reality that certainly deserves to be stamped out as much as possible. However, I have to wonder why “Trump” has made her list as well.
Are we really going to continue to set a precedent that even the mere mention, good, bad, or otherwise of a political candidate, or anyone for that matter, that we disagree with is something that should be banned from public view?
This isn’t the first time Instagram’s censorship rules have been a point of controversy. All throughout 2015 one can find examples such as when they were originally censoring hashtags using the rather phallic-looking eggplant emoji or the ongoing censorship of the female nipple with hashtag campaigns like #FreeTheNipple pushing back. With all this outrage over censoring, why then, is it considered ok for any faction of people to block others from showing support for the political candidate of their choice? While Instagram is not endorsing the censorship of political related comments directly, they have further empowered a movement of people insistent on insuring they never have to experience discomfort, hurt feelings, or opposing political views even if that comes at the expense of others’ 1st amendment rights. Specifically, Trump censoring has become a growing trend across the country.
For example, in March of this year students of Emory university in Atlanta, Georgia arrived on campus one morning to find pro-Trump chalkings scribbled around campus. Students reported that seeing the chalk signs was traumatizing and incited feelings of fear and pain, some even reporting fear that a KKK rally was taking place on campus or that a mass shooting might follow the unveiling of these chalk signs. I repeat, Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s last name followed by the current year written with chalk caused students to believe a KKK rally or mass shooting was occurring on campus. “0 to 100” has never happened so quickly.
Later that afternoon, 40-50 protesters organized demanding that, “You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!” before eventually meeting directly with Emory University President, Jim Wagner. Wagner later responded to the outrage vowing to make several policy changes immediately such as their “bias incident reporting and response process”.
An online petition began circulating stating, “Supporting [Trump], repeating his catchphrases, and arguing for his plausibility as the leader of the free world has become a threat to our democracy and an implicit attack on the Muslim, Latinx, Black, and other communities at Emory and across the country. This is not political expression; this is hate speech.” Apparently even campaigning for the wrong party is now considered a threat to public safety, at least according to students signing this petition. Here are some examples of the “hate speech” found at Emory University.
Other claimed chalkings include “Accept the inevitable” and “Build a wall,” however according to Nancy Seideman, spokeswoman for Emory University, their existence cannot be confirmed as no photos exist of these messages.
This is not a pro-Trump article. This is not a pro-candidate article at all. It’s a pro-everyone article. If we are going to defend people’s right to free speech and free expression then we need to protect everyone’s right to these tools for a better democracy. Hate speech and bullying are of a totally different family of concerns that deserve attention but that is not what I’m discussing.
More and more it seems that we are not only uncomfortable with talking about politics with people who do not share in our opinions but we staunchly oppose doing it at all, declaring zones of “safe space” on a public campus where free speech is only welcome if it meets the core values of the group in that safe space.
The university campus is a place of immense diversity and we should embrace this diversity with logical debate and civil back and forth. But instead these forums on a daily basis, as anyone who spends any time on the internet will see, quickly becomes a barrage of political slander, insults, rumors, and all other forms of biased, uninformed hullaballoo. If you find yourself quoting only the headlines of articles or worse yet, memes, then you are indeed doing something wrong. With that said, you are always going to encounter “unkind comments” in life and believe it or not, you yourself are going to be the perpetrator guilty of some of these unkind comments. So why don’t we leave it up to ourselves, not Instagram or university administrators, to police our own words and find the patience to hear others and the compassion to express ourselves freely and appropriately? We weren’t happy when Instagram censored our emojis. We are still not happy with Instagram censoring our nipples. Why then should we be ok with Instagram giving people the power to censor our politics?
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