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via Twitter (@taylorlorenz)

Why these meme admins locked themselves to Instagram’s HQ

Creators are fighting back against censorship and inconsistent content moderation on the platform

You might not know it, but you may have already heard of Ana, a 24-year-old from Massachusetts. It’s very possible you’ve liked one of her esoteric memes which she posts to her Instagram account, @neoliberalhell, where she’s amassed over 35,000 followers.

You’d think that as the established admin of a popular meme account, Instagram would support Ana’s creativity and safeguard her freedom of expression. “We want to foster a positive, diverse community” is written in their community guidelines, after all. But this is far from Ana’s experience. “I have been de-platformed so many times that I’ve lost track,” she tells Dazed. “They recently took down my largest account, @neoliberalhell2, for posting a flyer for this protest, claiming it was inciting violence.”

“I had my entire account wiped when I referenced the song ‘Work Bitch’ by Britney Spears,” she continues. “It’s things like this that are so senseless.”

Disturbingly, Ana has noticed that while harmless posts like these get censored, the violent and sexist messages she receives often go under Meta’s radar. “I’ve received countless comments, messages, and posts targeting me, harassing me, men saying awful things, going as far as to call me a whore who should be raped.”

Creators’ concerns are justified. A 2021 Wall Street Journal investigation that found Meta – Mark Zuckerberg’s company which owns Facebook and Instagram – applies different content moderation standards to high-profile accounts, with preferential treatment for “celebrities, politicians and journalists”.

“Some users are ‘whitelisted’ – rendered immune from enforcement actions – while others are allowed to post rule-violating material pending Facebook employee reviews that often never come,” the article writes.

Fed up with being censored and blacklisted, Ana joined forces with fellow poster Anjelica, a 32-year-old from Connecticut and admin of @hornymermaid. The pair went on to organise a protest outside Instagram’s New York City headquarters on Saturday, July 23 – a rally they dubbed the ‘Instarrection’ – in order to fight back against the platform’s content moderation policies. A number of sex workers, activists, and artists who use Instagram also attended the protest at the company’s headquarters, with several of the protestors handcuffing themselves to the building.

“Getting a group of fed up online creators who care about this wasn’t hard to do because so many people deal with these same moderation issues,” Ana says. “Anjelica and myself had been discussing this for a long time and we found other creators and had a group chat over Instagram to organise. We met on Zoom twice a week over the last month and a half, created demands, started posting information to spread the word and expose how unfair the moderation really is. It was an incredible group effort, and I’m so proud of us for pulling it off.”

The creators’ demands are more than reasonable, including “transparency regarding community guidelines” and an end to the silencing of “marginalised voices”, to ensure all Instagram users are held to the same standards. “Instagram bans activist accounts, suppresses Roe v Wade information, and lets malicious people online attack women, gay, trans, and POC creators and activists. This is all a lot more serious than just memes,” Ana says.

As you might expect from some of our generation’s sharpest minds, there were plenty of tongue-in-cheek signs at the Instarrection. One read “You cannot Zuck me in a way that matters”. Another declared “Solidarity with my fallen oomfs”. Three referenced the Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce that Zuck mentioned in a 2018 Facebook livestream. Ana’s was more to the point: “@zuck let me call you a BITCH on your own platform FUCKWAD!!!”

“Instagram as a platform has changed the art world for the better – it allows artists an incredible amount of exposure and a far more equal playing field. Instagram is a place where artists can actually get a shot at independent survival,” Ana says. “I see so much potential to make it independently through this platform. And it's terrifying that my success is completely in the hands of an awful and unfair moderation system.”

“It’s not just about memes for me,” she continues. “It’s about protecting artists like myself who gain so much potential for independence and success and financial stability through the platform.”

It’s clear these admins are sick and tired of the obscene amount of power Zuckerberg wields over them – so much so that a creator exodus could be on the cards. “We would love to boycott if we could get more creators involved to really make a big impact, I think it would be a great idea,” Ana continues. “If a better platform comes along I will gladly move over. I think Instagram should be worried about creators leaving as TikTok surpasses them. They need to listen to users and creators to keep their app alive.” 

One thing is clear: the admins have an immense amount of support behind them. Even the Kardashians have given the platform the kiss of death, with Kim and Kylie sharing a critical post reading “Make Instagram Instagram again” to their stories. Given that Kylie knocked a cool $1.3 billion off Snapchat’s value back in 2018 after tweeting that she didn’t use the platform anymore, it seems like Instagram may be on its last legs. “A lot of people hate so many aspects of Instagram and Meta services, which is why Mark Zuckerberg is the butt of so many jokes,” Ana says.

“There are some people who ask us why we should care about this when there are ‘bigger issues’ because they fail to understand that this reflects people’s real material reality,” she continues. “Anjelica takes care of her child with the income generated from this app. There are plenty of people on that same boat. Why should she or anyone have to live in fear of losing her platform and therefore her income? There needs to be more security there.”