by olicard.carriere on September 3, 2013 - 1:19am

Instagram and censorship. On the surface, the two have little in common. Instagram is for pictures of food, retro-styled filters and hashtags. Censorship is for serious matters, classified secrets and offensive material. However, as this article posted on The Data Pack shows, an overlap exists. Instagram has a list of banned hashtags, which return no results when searched. As hashtags are one of the principal methods of discovery on Instagram, a ban essentially censors the picture from other users. As censorship becomes an increasingly large online and the Internet becomes a bigger part of the "offline" world, the topic of censorship is something that I keep a close watch on. 
While the article itself presents no opinion, it does implicitly ask a question. Is can censorship be acceptable?
In my opinion, censorship can be acceptable, as in the case of Instagram. Banned hastags fall into three main categories. The first category covers hashtags that provide little value yet are quite frequent, such as #photography and #instagram. This is mainly for technical reasons and is not particularily harmful, as these hashtags are too general to. The second covers potentially harmful or self-harm related tags, such as #proanorexia and #probulimia. This is done in the name of protecting users, and is useful in stopping the promotion of negative behaviors. In both of these cases, the intent is to minimize legitimate problems.
However, the third category is a trickier. It covers tags that Instagram considers sexual or offensive. This is done in an attempt to keep the content they host "acceptable". Unfortunately, what is acceptable and isn't is a very nebulous concept, and can potentially change from moment to moment. While Instagram is not currently "serious" enough to have a significant impact, other social media sites most certainly are. The Arab Spring comes to mind as an situation where such a practice could have a huge impact.
While the motive behind the third category is understandable, it raises another question: do creators have the right to determine how their creations are used?


I really liked the topic of your article. Instagram is just one of the many social networks that many of us use daily and it has an impact on our lives. Personally, I spend multiple hours on social media everyday and I use Instagram very regularly.

I believe the creators of a social network do have the right to decide how it is used. I recently had a discussion with people about the “spotted” pages on Facebook. On these pages, posts are sent to the administrators of the page and the administrators post these anonymously on the page. However, the administrators must moderate the posts, so there is nothing too offensive on it or people will report the page. Talking about this, we discussed how important it was that these administrators have a good moral compass, otherwise many people could get insulted. It is not only their right, but their duty to be respectful to readers of the page or anybody who could look at it. On a social network, it is basically the same thing, only on a much larger scale. The creators of a social network like Instagram do not only have the right to decide what goes on the social network, but the duty to protect its users, which it does by blocking things like “proanorexia”. However, these people must have a good moral compass and decide what is right to block.

For example, if the creators were of Instagram were very homophobic, they could decide to block any hashtags that are for gay pride, but leave open the very homophobic ones. This would be highly disrespectful to the gay community and to anybody supporting it. Having done most of my work on newsactivist on gay rights, I would be very angry at the creator of Instagram, but they would still be allowed to decide to block this because they created Instagram. That is why the persona of the creator is very important, so they treat everybody equally and with respect. It is important that the blocked hastags are only to protect users and not a subtle way that the creators use to push their ideas on others.

In my mind, censorship is acceptable if it aims to protect people, by, for example, blocking “#proanorexia”. However, it is not an acceptable way to push the creator’s ideas on the rest of the world, and this is where we must be careful when it comes to censorship.

Finally, here is an article about Facebook in Iran, how it is blocked in the country right now, but would remain censored if it became unblocked. It is another case of censorship and how certain things would be censored to “protect” the population of the country.


As a fellow seasoned net surfer, I am also concerned about the growing presence of censorship all over the World Wide Web and, consequentially, in popular social medias. I believe the reason there is a debate going on about whether or not we should censor the internet comes from its fundamentally attractive features: liberty and wide access to information.

This also means that, without censorship, anyone can post hateful, intolerant or morally unacceptable content, sometimes anonymously, and nearly anyone can have access to it. Should we then conclude censorship is a must? It depends. In the case of social medias, I believe it is wrong to enforce global censorship on topics deemed "incorrect", as mentioned for the third category, simply because users should be able to determine themselves topics they find wrong, or offensive. Most social media users purposely click on hashtags, or any other form of metadata tag, and can decide which ones could link to potentially disturbing content.

As you said, censorship in social medias can have big repercussions on events such as the Arab Spring and it reminds us that social medias can now be used by a population as a tool to organize themselves and make sure their voices are heard. Therefore, social medias provide the means for people to exercise their basic rights and some sort of restrictions on it would be in the way of such rights. As for the more specific case of how one can use his own creation, I believe that on an abstract level, intellectual property can be used however the creator(s) like, but when it comes to practical uses, they could be regulated if they aim to be harmful towards innocent people (i.e people who do not purposely click on that link, or unwillingly buy that product). Whether we should consider being tricked into going on a malicious site as full consent or not gives new grounds for debate.
I would suggest reading the following article, as it provides a thorough description on censorship in social medias and the possibility of surveillance by government firms.