In mid July, Instagram, a Facebook Inc. company, decided to ban the term #goddess to help curb policy violations. Although Instagram did not respond to The Wild Hunt, a spokesperson did tell ABC News:
In this case, #goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity. We’ve taken similar action on dozens of hashtags because they were being used to share inappropriate content.
The spokesperson is referencing its recent ban on #curvy, #eggplant, #boobs, #scandalous and more. According to Instagram, these hashtags are disproportionately used to post pornography or photos that violate its nudity policy; a policy that in and of itself has elicited controversy.
The #curvy ban was the most recent and, after generating significant protests, the term was reinstated. In the meantime, hashtag activists took to their computers, switching to the term #curvee and posting body-positive images of themselves. The social media site was accused of censoring images of women’s bodies that did not fit an unrealistic media ideal. As with the explanation to the goddess ban, an Instragram spokesperson explained, “The tag was being used to share pornography, which is strictly forbidden on the site.” #Curvy is now searchable again.
Instagram’s hashtag bans are nothing more than the site’s attempt to negotiate the fine line between freedom of expression and maintaining “common decency” within a public media forum. This dance is nothing new. Prior to 1930, the Film Industry was struggling with the exact same issue, with no industry standards in place. Facets of society were breathing down its neck for censorship of what was seen as sensationalism, gratuitous nudity and violence. Censorship arrived in the way of the Production Code and, then in 1968, gave way to the rating system, which we know today. TV, Magazines, Books and Video Games have also gone through a similar negotiation at one point or another. It is the difficult struggle to define the social standards of decency within a dynamic, diverse, and changing culture.
What is appropriate and when, within the public entertainment and media forum?
In the internet world, the problem becomes more complicated. There are nearly no limits or barriers to production of media, with millions of people online, from all around the world living within different cultural expectations and standards of social decency. At the same time, decisions and actions are instanteous, wide-sweeping and happening in real time.
Banning hashtags, like “goddess” or “curvy,” may help in one area, but only create instant collateral damage for others.
While there are those that do acknowledge that Instagram’s attempts are noble, there is still incongruity in its efforts. Linda Steiner, PhD, a University of Maryland, College Park media studies professor, told ThinkProgress, “I’m impressed with the attempts of Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter to try to come to grips with the problem rather than ignoring it altogether.” However, she goes on to say that the enforcement and methodologies used are inconsistent and problematic. Steiner said:
Instagram’s policy is not only weirdly enforced, I think they’re trying to have a simple policy that makes it easy for them …. Women are really bothered by the predatory invasion of their bodies … That includes posts of their body parts without their permission and the banning their own images because they don’t conform to an ideal physique.
As Steiner suggests, many of these bans, and related deleted photos, directly involve the display of female bodies and women’s sexuality. And, that has been the crux of the problem. While Instagram is trying to protect women and curb violations against women’s bodies, it is also censoring women and their positive expressions of female sexuality, spirituality, agency and body-positive imagery.
In a letter to Instagram published at Huffington Post, writer Christina Gutierrez writes, “I spend my life working with women who have experienced trauma and abuse of all kinds. I fuse modern therapy with ancient wisdom. This is how they heal. This is how we come to peace with the chaos of everyday life … The ancient wisdom texts that I work from are the stories of the GODDESS.”
Pagans and Heathens have joined the protests. Author and teacher Erick DuPree wrote:
This is not about Goddess, She doesn’t need a hashtag. This is about the sovereignty of women and their right to autonomy to hashtag something #goddess which for centuries has represented the divine feminine in many forms. That right to self expression and identity which might seem trivial has now been taken away. That is #oppressive and what it means to perpetuate #rapeculture #patriarchy and #power. This isn’t about a #hashtag it’s about self determination and that is a sacred rite!
Priestess and teacher Crystal Starshine simply asked “why” and publicly shared a photo of herself and “other wild sisters at the Alternative Wombyn Retreats in Utah.”Some Pagans believe the ban is basic religious discrimination. In her Huffington Post article, Gutierrez asks, “How would the Christians and Catholics feel if their hashtag #GOD was taken away? Would the Instagram team even think to do that?” Others are pointing out that the Goddess plays a sacred role in many world religious traditions. The term is used throughout the world in many positive ways, beyond what is listed even here.
Since the ban was discovered, images of world Goddesses have been appearing all over social media in protest. And, with the new hashtag #bringbackthegoddess, women are posting images of themselves. Even on Instagram’s own site, the hashtag is being used in association with such images, as well as many others that depict female empowerment. It is now a rally cry.
Instagram’s spokeperson told The Daily Dot. “We’re also working on ways to better communicate our policies around hashtags.” The company suggested to ABC that it is always reevaluating banned hashtags. Just as it restored #curvy, it may restore #goddess. However, these decision on how to regulate decency within media, and ultimately how it is defined, are often left solely to a corporation, and are based on internal policies, the convictions of its owners, and ultimately, what it thinks will support and drive business.In recent months, it has been suggested that Instagram has, at times, shown a concern for the greater good. This summer, they banned #SandraBland for 24 hours and #CaitlynJenner during the Espy Awards. Instagram explained that it was receiving a disproportionate amount of hate posts using the tags during that period of time. Both tags were reinstated after the period was over. There is still debate on whether the bans themselves ultimately achieved any goal or had a positive affect.
What will happen to #goddess is still unknown at this point? However, the protests are on. Regardless of the outcome, the entire situation does bring to the forefront an important conversation about the depiction and presentation of the female body in public entertainment and media space. It presents the opportunity to question and discuss where these lines are drawn and why; what is acceptable and what is not. What photos are oppressive, which are a violations and which are a empowering celebrations.