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Photo by Charlotte Douleur / via

Instagram keeps banning sex-positive and kink accounts

Meta says the accounts were banned ‘in error’ and have since been reinstated – but creators say this isn’t the first time this has happened

Charlotte Douleur is the creator behind, a popular Instagram account which platforms sex-positive photography and memes. One recent post features slutty affirmations like “you are sluttier than you think” and “every day is a chance to be a slut. Don’t waste it”, imposed over stills of Elle Woods dressed as a pink bunny in Legally Blonde. The account also acts as a tight-knit community, with followers regularly meeting up for events and socials organised by Douleur.

On June 21st, Douleur received an email informing her that her account had been suspended for ‘violating community guidelines’. It wasn’t the first time this has happened – she’s been banned from Instagram in the past too, only to have her account restored after a few days. But the fear of getting banned again has never gone away. “It’s so expected,” she tells Dazed. “From the get go, I’ve been mentally preparing myself for the day that I get deleted [...] it very much just feels like it’s part of this type of work – which it shouldn't be.”

Douleur isn’t the only creator who had her account deleted last weekend. A long list of accounts were also impacted by a mass de-platforming of queer and sex-positive creators and sex workers on Instagram, including UK Fetish Archive, an educational resource which delves into the history of kink and fetish, Cybertease, a collective of unionised sex workers, and kink community Klub Verboten. It’s estimated that over 45 accounts in total were impacted by the crackdown. In opposition to the campaign, members of the community have launched a campaign called ‘Stop Deleting Us’ and are planning to protest outside Meta’s headquarters in London on July 4.

Dr Carolina Are is innovation fellow at the Centre for Digital Citizens at Northumbria University and an expert on platforms’ censorship of nudity and sex. She’s been keeping a close eye on Meta’s recent de-platforming move. “It seems that Meta is targeting sex workers, which you could argue is nothing new, but sex workers are now being targeted particularly when they share links.” Dr Are says the banned accounts aren’t even necessarily sharing OnlyFans links – Meta’s policy says it “draws the line” at content which “facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters or commercial sexual services between adults”  – and that many are being de-platformed after simply sharing links to “competitions”.

“There’s also a lot of kink events and kink venues and parties that are being targeted, particularly in the UK,” Dr Are continues, adding that this could be linked to the “very infamous and very ineffective” aforementioned Meta policy. “If you post a suggestive element – which could be a sexually suggestive pose, sexual emojis, mentions to sex or drawings of sex – in conjunction with an offer for communication – be that ‘link in bio’ or ‘send me a DM’ – then [it looks like] you are implicitly soliciting,” she explains. “But this is what a lot of kinky events would do, right? Obviously they share a picture of a party that they've done or an event that they’re doing, with the link for people to buy tickets.”

Naturally, this is having a devastating impact on those whose accounts were banned last weekend. Speaking to Dazed, Karl, the founder of Klub Verboten, says he and the team were in “total distress mode” after their account was banned. “Digitally and mentally, we died that day,” he says. “One user deletion meant the disconnection of 70,000 community members for Verboten alone. We felt like the Berlin Wall was re-erected in-front of our screens.”

“It’s a bit soul-destroying, because you put so much effort into making the content and building up such a base,” Douleur says, adding that the recent ban came as a huge blow. “My community there is bigger now, and I invested in getting a much bigger space for my events,” she says, explaining that she’d just released tickets for a new event when her account was taken down at the weekend. “I was like, ‘fuck, what am I going to do?’”. 

As Dr Are explains, a lot of people rely on Instagram for work and their main source of income. “Obviously, if you lose your job within this space overnight, you are very upset and you're worried about how to make ends meet which is really unsettling and upsetting,” she says. Karl’s experience affirms this. “Meta’s users put a lot of trust into these platforms,” he says, calling on Meta to “please treat our fragile digital persona with adequate respect, patience and understanding. Behind every deletion is a human's digital narrative, mental health and income potentially gone or negatively affected.”

“Meta does have a track record of over-moderating and over-censoring sex, particularly as opposed to violence and harassment” – Dr Carolina Are

Dr Are also stresses that the loss of a sense of community is also devastating for users. “There’s people that have built memories and networks through those apps which can't be rebuilt in the space of a day,” she says, adding that her research has found that this can lead to depression – particularly for those who are part of marginalised communities. “This results in a heightening of feelings of shame and discrimination which they felt offline in a space that had previously felt inclusive for them.” Additionally, Dr Are adds, the de-platforming of sex-positive users “furthers the stigmatisation of sex, making sex look like it’s deviant, like it’s something wrong, when sex is a normal aspect of human life.”

It’s unclear exactly how and why such a widespread de-platforming happened – but Dr Are has some ideas about what might be behind the crackdown. “There could be an automation change that we’re not privy to that they haven’t told us about. Or there could have been a mistake of machine learning, where the algorithm has learned from a previous decision which has made it then overcomply and overzealously pick up stuff related to the previous decision,” she suggests. “But my guess is as good as anyone’s at this stage, because in typical Meta fashion, users are left to a guessing game as to what is happening and why, so we will never know until they tell us.”

Speaking to Dazed, a Meta spokesperson said: “We understand our platforms play an important role in helping people express themselves and connect with communities. While we allow sex positive content and discussion, we have rules in place around nudity and sexual solicitation to ensure content is appropriate for everyone, particularly young people. A number of the accounts brought to our attention were removed in error and have been reinstated.”

Thankfully, many accounts – including Karl’s account @klubverboten and Douleur’s account – have since been restored. But others have not been restored, including artist Molly Cavell, sex therapist Sylvia Anim, plus-size influencer Charley B AKA @curvaciousmistressofthemind. Plus, this stress-inducing fiasco is just the latest in a long line of content moderation cock-ups and entirely in keeping with the usual censorship of sex (and particularly sex workers) on the platform.

“Meta does have a track record of over-moderating and over-censoring sex, particularly as opposed to violence and harassment,” Dr Are says, explaining that this is largely down to FOSTA-SESTA, the US law which banned the online advertisement of sex work in 2018. It was largely intended to curb sex trafficking, but has since had extreme, adverse effects on sex workers. “Platforms have become essentially liable for facilitating and promoting sex trafficking, which sounds like a great thing,” Dr Are says. “But actually the law lumps sex trafficking in with sex work, which is a job and not a crime. As a result, platforms are becoming overzealous in censoring anything related to sex.”

What needs to change for the platform to be more accommodating to sex workers and sex-positive creators? “I think a lot of people understand that Meta has a massively challenging job in running such a huge platform with so many users around the world of different ages with different cultural values and backgrounds and experiences,” Dr Are says. “I think the issue here is that if the appeal system actually worked, then de-platforming wouldn't be that much of a problem because you would lose your account and you would regain it quite quickly.”

But in reality, as Dr Are says, the infrastructure for appeals is completely inadequate, with pages glitching and trans users often struggling to verify their identity if they haven’t got any ID with the correct name and gender. “If the platforming was really stringent, but the appeals were swift and thorough and fast and fair, then this wouldn't be that much of an issue,” she says. “But this is an issue of de-platforming coupled with a really inadequate appeal system.”