Social media

Instagram still censors your filthy hashtags ... except when it doesn't

Oct. 30, 2013 at 5:07 PM ET

Instagram
Instagram

When it comes to providing hard and fast rules about what isn't allowed on a specific social network and why, Facebook has never been the model of transparency. 

Since Facebook snapped up Instagram for a cool billion just last year, it makes sense that what is and isn't allowed on the popular image-sharing site should — like its parent company — not make a lot of sense either. And it sure doesn't. Take this new report from social media tracker The Data Pack, which reveals that a some of the both offensive and innocent hashtags that were censored and unsearchable on Instagram in August are now back in business

Which ones? This is a family website, so I'll spell it out in the secret language only grownups can decipher. These include hashtags featuring the "B" word, the "F" word, combination tags including "sexy," slang terms for primary and secondary sexual organs — including homonym combos such as #boobtube — as well as #foodorgasm (used to tag Instagram's vibrant culture of meal posting) and the eating disorder-associated #thinspo. 

Users are free to add any hashtag imaginable, but as The Data Pack notes, censored hashtags won't return any search results, just a “400 This tag cannot be viewed” error via the Instagram API. The real head-scratcher here is the list of still-censored Instagram hashtags, many of which aren't any more offensive than their recently released compadres.  

Hashtags still non grata include some iterations of the "F" word, different word combinations containing the "B" word, the silly "B" homonym for a stupid person or a woman's breasts, and the "T" word denoting the same thing. Also censored on Instagram: #breasts, #nipple, #nipples,#bra, #braless and #cleavage. #Penis and #vagina are no go, too. 

Meanwhile, derogatory "B," "C" and "D" words associated with male and female genitals seem to be OK if combined with other words in a hashtag, but won't work in the Instagram search when they stand alone. There's more bad examples I could illustrate via the alphabet, but let's move on. 

Instagram started censoring words associated with "Pro-ana" culture — whose members support each other's extreme weight loss through anorexia nervosa with photos and blogs — in April 2012, the same month Facebook announced its intentions to buy the photo-sharing site. That's not to say Facebook is the reason however, since both Tumblr and Pinterest dropped the banhammer on #thinspiration and #thinspo earlier that year. These days, #thinspiration #proanorexia and #probulimia are still censored on Instagram. But #thinspo is back, albeit "with with a content advisory warning and a link to the National Eating Disorders Association," The Data Pack points out.

In our effort to make rhyme or reason of any of the above, we asked Instagram, which provided this statement:

We want Instagram to be a safe and fun place for people to capture and share moments. That means finding a good balance between allowing people to express themselves and providing protections to prevent certain content that would be against our terms. This is an evolving and ongoing process for us and we encourage people who come across content that makes them uncomfortable to report it to us using the built-in reporting tools next to every photo and video on Instagram.

As for words you can say in front of your Nana and Pepaw, some of those remain as censored now as they were in August, when The Data Pack posted its first report. These include #iphone, #iphoneography, #instagram #ilovemyinstagram. At the time, Instagram cofounder Mike Kreiger explained, “We’ve stopped serving feeds (both in app and API) for some tags that were too generic and didn’t provide enough end-user value.”

And of course, Instagram, like Facebook, does have its standards. Well, Community Guidelines, anyway. "If you wouldn’t show the photo or video you are thinking about uploading to a child, or your boss, or your parents, you probably shouldn’t share it on Instagram," users are advised. What the rules neglect to mention however, is how exactly that applies (or doesn't apply) to hashtags. 

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitter and/or Facebook

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