Instagram is censoring lesbian, gay and bisexual content, by filtering images collated under a range of hashtags.
Earlier this month, The Data Pack released a list of "strange and hilarious" hashtags that have been censored by the site. These include #lesbian, #gays, #lesbians, #bi, while other hashtags relating to sexuality, such as #gay, are not.
When attempting to browse certain hashtags, users are shown a select few images, along with the following message: "Recent posts from #lesbian are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram's community guidelines."
A spokesperson for Instagram told HuffPost UK that the lesbian hashtag has been restricted to a 'top posts' setting, which is reserved for hashtags that contain a large amount of "violating content (such as nudity or spam)".
When a hashtag is identified in this way, Instagram will temporarily remove the 'most recent' section and only display 'top posts', which have been approved by moderators. This will remain the case until the hashtags are no longer used to post "violating content".
But while there are hundreds of thousands of images posted with the hashtag, the 'top posts' setting only allows up to 33 images on show (many of which are memes or pornographic, which is exactly what the restrictions are supposed to be removing).
It's worth noting that users can still post images using the hashtag, but the images just won't collate on the page.
Experts believe that restricting hashtags in such a way could have a damaging effect on the LGBT+ community.
A spokesperson for Stonewall, the UK's LGBT charity, told HuffPost UK: "Many young lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in particular use online spaces as forums and a chance to create communities. These often act as safe spaces for discussion, to build networks and friendships and to offer advice to one another.
"When individuals or groups are ‘highjacking’ hashtags or using social platforms to invade these spaces it can have a detrimental effect on those who create and rely on them, which is hugely worrying and is something that should be addressed."
Elly Barnes, CEO and founder of Educate & Celebrate, an organisation dedicated to implementing an LGBT+Inclusive curriculum, told HuffPost UK: "Ostensibly by saying that one hashtag is allowed while another of the same kind isn't, it starts to create a hierarchy within marginalised groups which does no good for anybody.
"It's particularly significant in this case because of the significance of words," Barnes said. "Nobody should be ashamed of gay, bisexual, trans, or any of the other terms which fall under the LGBT+ umbrella."
For Barnes, Instagram is a powerful tool for "self-expression" among young members of the LGBT+ community, many of whom are exploring their identity.
"We have to be wary of censorship of words that can impact young people, who every day are confronted by homophobic, biphobic and transphobic slurs and bullying," they said.
Educate & Celebrate have issued a 'Best Practice Programme' that teaches that words such as gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans "aren't to be feared,but should be used contextually and with respect".
For Barnes, the community must unite to tackle the issue: "When it comes to censorship, it's important that the LGBT+community comes together to show that words, particularly our words, matter."
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