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Instagram is blocking ‘obscene’ hashtags from search and being a hypocrite about it

why no sexualwednesdays instagrams secret prude side banned instagram words
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Bad news for people who like to push boundaries on Instagam (here’s looking at you, Rihanna): the photo-sharing service doesn’t allow you to search for some of its more scandalous hashtags. 

Australian entrepreneur Nick Drewe compiled a list of some of the blocked phrases on Instagram on his blog The Data Pack, and the results are surprising and paint a picture of a rather prude Instagram.

Instagram made its fight against “thinspiration” photos public and introduced new rules to stop users from posting content that promoted eating disorders, so it’s no surprise that searching for #thinspiration leaves you with nothing. And it shouldn’t be too shocking that Instagram is blocking tags clearly meant to bring you to pornographic photos, like #dicks.

But some of the blocked terms are bizarre. You can’t search #thesexpistols, for instance. Does Instagram have a secret vendetta against Johnny Rotten? Hard to say, but the criterion for blocking searches seems faulty, since you can’t look up #wefabulousbitch but you can certainly still look up #junkiesofIG. Now, #wefabulousbitch does contain a curse word, but it seems to convey a theme of female empowerment, while #junkiesofIG celebrates hardcore drug culture.  

Some of the stranger blocked phrases include: 

  • #shirtless (Any hashtag that could be used to describe an Abercrombie catalog probably isn’t that salacious.) 
  • #BitchDontKillMyVibes (Pretty sure this would just be Kendrick Lamar-related photos.) 
  • #foodorgasm (Likely refers to delicious brunches… I hope.) 
  • #sofuckingtierd (What?) 
  • #fuckfuel prices (Yes, it says a bad word, but who can argue with the sentiment?!)
  • #notassexylicousasyou (Did someone actually use this tag?) 
  • #SexualWednesdays (Sounds more entertaining than #tbt.) 

In some cases it seems like Instagram is more concerned with banning curse words than hateful or lewd content, probably because it’s easier to simply hide tags with salty language than it is to go through and look for problematic groups of pictures. It’s weird that Instagram lets over 53,000 #thatass photos slide while censoring the likely less popular and less T&A-friendly #jamesmotherfuckingfranco. 

This explains why tons of hashtags featuring the “F” word are banned (including the strangely specific #fucktyler) but explicitly racist and discriminatory stuff still slips past. It makes no sense why #SexualWednesdays is banned but you can still look up #uglyslutsaturday, which is apparently a thing and incredibly horrible. 

Websites that help you search Instagram on the web like Statigram and Webstagram follow Instagram’s lead with the banned terms, so you can’t get around the issue by using a third party. 

And in related “Instagram has strange ideas about what is offensive and inoffensive” news, the photo-sharing site is now the target of anger following its decision to ban one of its members. 

Instagram deleted Amy Woodruff’s account after it was flagged by users who took offense towards a photo of Woodruff breastfeeding while in a yoga handstand. Now, other Instagram users are petitioning the site to let Woodruff back on. 

They’re using the hashtag #savethedaughterofthesun, and there are over a thousand photos in support Woodruff. 

Instagram hasn’t gone full censor, though – you can still search for #savethedaughterofthesun. All in all, it looks like Instagram is being something of a prude. And a hypocritical, arbitrary one at that. 

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Kate Knibbs
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