How Instagram’s Censorship Works
Illustration: Jared Egusa / Unwoke Narrative
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Editoral Team

How Instagram’s Censorship Works

Like most prominent social media companies, Facebook-owned Instagram has a serious censorship problem. They routinely suppress ideas and information. We break down their methodology.

Hiding Accounts From Search: Many users constantly complain about being shadow-banned. The easiest way to tell is by searching for your account. To prevent certain accounts from being seen, Instagram prevents them from being searched for.

Users will type in an account in the search bar and the account will not show up unless it is fully typed. Typing in “Unwoke” will reveal our alternate accounts, but our main account will only show when “UnwokeNarrative” is typed. Search functionality uses mutual followers and related accounts to provide you with the account you’re looking for. The no-search list function makes finding accounts almost impossible.

Removing followers: Most large accounts notice a large amount of daily unfollows. There are non-censorship reasons for this. Followers might be tired of the content and unfollow themselves. However, when looking at the statistics of our daily unfollow average, we noticed something concerning.

On average, about 100 followers unfollow Unwoke Narrative per day. This number should increase and decrease with our overall follower count. The more followers we have, the more daily unfollows we should have. This hasn’t been the case. Our account has averaged around 100 daily unfollows for the past six months while gaining over 50k followers. The simple understanding for this is that Instagram is algorithmically removing our followers.

We get direct messages from many followers informing us that they were no longer following us, despite never actually unfollowing.

Preventing Users From Following: Traditionally, when users want to follow an account, they will hit the follow button. If that account is on Instagram’s suppression list, the process is more complicated. Users will now be warned before following with the end goal of dissuading users from following accounts.

Preventing Basic Engagement: Instagram frequently prevents users from liking, commenting on, and sharing posts. We’ve had users send us videos of them hitting the like button only for the like to disappear seconds later. Users have also reported Instagram hiding their comments and not allowing them to share our posts.

Hiding Posts From Feeds: Since Instagram left the chronological timeline and switched to an algorithmic order, censorship has become more straightforward. For a censored account like ours, users tell us they haven’t seen our posts in months. Our posts are rarely shown in the explore feed, designed to predict what content users want to see algorithmically.

Prevent Link Sharing: In a newly announced feature, Instagram will now prevent users that have violated Instagram's guidelines from sharing links in their stories. Link-sharing in stories is the only way to share links besides the user's bio link. This will make it much harder to share content outside of Instagram.

Biased Third-Party Fact-Checkers: Facebook and Instagram teamed up with “independent” fact-checkers to moderate the content on their platforms to appear nonpartisan. However, these fact-checkers are far from independent. Some are run by partisan activists, have ties to Chinese funding, and disproportionately target conservative content.

On Instagram, this is precisely the case. Fact-checkers rarely flag down left-wing and liberal Instagram accounts for sharing false information. For right-wing accounts, it’s almost expected. Accounts are frequently targeted, and even when the information isn’t wrong, fact-checkers attempt to present it as misinformation and fabricate their claims.

How are these fact-checkers engaging in censorship? Flagging accounts give Instagram and Facebook an excuse to censor accounts. Instagram hires fact-checkers to appear fair and then uses them to flag content they don’t like so they can censor them. The process is akin to soviet-style KGB tactics.

After Lead Stories, one of the fact-checkers, flagged us down for “misleading” information, Instagram notified us that our account might be deleted. We proved their fact-check itself was misinformation.

Just deleting accounts: Sometimes, the above tactics are not necessary at all. Instagram has been known to randomly delete accounts that they deem problematic. It openly happened with thousands of QAnon accounts.

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Editoral Team

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