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Instagram, Shadow Bans, and the war on female bodies and empowerment

Written by Fiona Perso

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are one of those rare individuals who don’t use social media, you’d be aware that Instagram has taken to Shadow Banning a lot of content related to pole dancing in recent times. So what's a Shadow Ban, what does it man for our Insta accounts and why does any of it matter?

What’s a Shadow Ban?

Good question, let’s examine in more detail. By definition a Shadow Ban is the act of blocking a user from an online community in such a way that they don’t realise that they’ve been banned. It’s some next level passive aggressive shit. A Shadow Ban stops specific hashtags being discoverable by the wider Instagram community, meaning only your followers can see your content. It’s worth noting that Shadow Ban isn’t an official term used by Facebook (who own Instagram) and the company has never acknowledged an official policy that leads to posts or specific hashtags being banned. Presumably because they’re a bunch of pencil pushing pussy’s who won’t stand up and admit that they’re deliberately trying to censor content posted by certain communities. Instagram did earlier this year, according to an article in HuffPost[i] admit to demoting posts that are “inappropriate” but don’t’ violate its community guidelines. When asked to further define “inappropriate” they gave only one example “sexually suggestive”, but wouldn’t provide any further definition on that term either.

Sexually suggestive is up there with my most hated terms. As a retailer selling pole dance clothing I’ve had many internet bouts with Facebook over their advertising standards when my ads are not approved due to the mysterious “sexually suggestive” content. As a 35 year old women I think I have a fairly good grasp of what “sexually suggestive” images look like, and the images I’m using don’t fall into that category. They’re usually a model posing in what is no more revealing then a bathing suit. To be specific, it’s a FEMALE model. Because let’s not pretend that this has nothing to do with gender and how everything women do is perceived as sexual in nature. Because what other purpose could we have in this world except to lure unsuspecting men into our lives. Wearing anything less than a Handmaids Tale head to toe outfit and you’re trying to get men’s attention. Take up pole dancing, it must be because you want to attract more men into your life. Dance in an exotic style, it’s obviously because you want to torment innocent men with your rampant sexuality while they innocently go about their day. BULLSHIT!! SO MUCH BULLSHIT!! I’m going to say it really loud for the people in the back of the room.




Why does Instagram Shadow Ban certain hashtags?

Censorship, duh. They can dress it up however they like but the most likely explanation here is the blatant censorship of sex workers and women’s bodies in general, and the wider pole dance community has become collateral damage.

United Pole Artists have published a list of hashtags on their Insta specifically related to pole dancing that have now been Shadow Banned. And it’s not one or two, it 30 plus, and growing as more members of our community find their content being blocked to the wider Insta audience. A growing number of hashtags containing the word pole or beginning with pd are shadow banned right now. If you use just one of these hashtags in your Instagram post it will be Shadow Banned. I came across the below graphics on Facebook recently and spot checking a few of them this would seem to be accurate at this point in time, but i'm sure it will keep changing as we find ourselves being more and more censored on this platform. 

Pole dance hashtags banned

Pole dance hashtags still allowed

Creatures of XIX, possibly the biggest pole dance clothing brand in the world right now have had their company name banned as a hashtag. You can no longer search Instagram using #creaturesofxix. The pole studio I attend in little old Adelaide has had their company name hashtag banned. Pole Junkie in the UK have changed their company hashtag to take out the word pole so their content doesn’t get banned. Poleflow, a company name that Marlo Fisken owns the trademark to is now banned. This is despite the fact that I’m certain all of these business have spent good money advertising on Facebook/Instagram. Didn’t have any problem with taking our money, but happy to ban our content after the fact. Where will this lunacy end? In all likelihood it probably won’t, and communities who continue to be Shadow Banned by Instagram will have no choice but to band together to create their own specialised platforms free from this kind of ludicrous censorship. Some clever polers saw the writing on the wall some time ago and began putting together a platform called Pole Free which will be built on a bespoke community platform and be free from unwarranted censorship, check out their website here and sign up A platform made by polers, for polers, where we can all be free to express ourselves without censorship and judgement. It can’t come soon enough.

Meanwhile the mainstream media, including Facebook, are more than happy to promote the new movie Hustlers. A film about strippers, the film clip of which shows Jennifer Lopez teaching the new lady on the job how to pole dance. That’s fine, but actual pole dancers and strippers sharing their content online. Hell no, community standards, sexually suggestive content which we refuse to define, blah, blah, blah.

The pole dance community on Instagram is one I’m very proud to be a part of. We share our journeys with each other, we learn from each other, we help to empower each other. And right now we’re a community that is suffering from what is basically a gag order that we don’t deserve. Every time I check Instagram there’s another pole dancer informing us of more banned hashtags, another pole dancer who feels they’ve been silenced and their art is being invalidated by faceless people hiding behind massive impenetrable corporations. Facebook and Instagram seem to have no issue with hate groups and hate speech filling up their pages. Racism, Islamophobia, Neo-Nazis, anti-LGBTQ groups. These don’t appear to be as heavily censored as women swinging around poles. I say women a lot when I’m talking about pole dancing, especially in the scope of censorship, but let’s not forget the amazing male pole dancers in our community who will also be affected by this.

I can’t help but feel it’s also about the sensitivity and entitlement to complain that is characteristic of today’s society. If you’re scrolling through Insta and see something you don’t like, or you personally feel is inappropriate. JUST KEEP SCROLLING. Your opinion is not the gospel, it’s just your opinion. No one is forcing you to look at content that you don’t want to look at. If you’re searching a hashtag generally it’s because you want to see content that’s related to it. In an effort to reach a wider audience people do use a variety of hashtags that will have a broader reach. Pole dancers may use fitness hashtags, because hello, POLE DANCING IS A SPORT. If that wasn’t what you were looking for, KEEP SCROLLING. Live and let live. Your beliefs and values aren’t the only ones that exist in the world and they’re not more important than anyone else’s you arrogant twats. Stop complaining, stop trying to police other people’s behaviour and focus on being a better person yourself.

What can we do as a community?

We can take over other hashtags. Basically Instagram can’t ban all hashtags, if we start using hashtags from other communities they may think it’s better to give us our own back. Pole dancing is a lot of things, it’s an aerial art, it’s contortion, it’s stretching, it’s yoga, it’s flexibility, it’s gymnastics, it’s acrobatics, it’s fitness, it’s sport, it’s dance, it’s contemporary dance, and so on and so forth. Pole dancing encompasses so many forms of movement, we’ll just have to leave the actual apparatus out of the equation for the time being.

Carlie Hunter, owner of The Pole Boutique in Adelaide and all round awesome human being, whose company name hashtag has been banned by Insta, suggests we take over Insta’s own hashtag set. If they want to continue to ban us, then let’s make them ban their own hashtags. Its Insta warfare at its finest and I freaking love it.

#ig #igdaily #igphotoworld #igers #bestoftheday 
#instagramhub #instagram

Why does it matter?

It matters because it’s blatant censorship of, yet again, women’s bodies. It matters because pole dancing is our art, it’s our hobby, it’s our fitness regime, it’s out passion, it’s our damn community and we should have the same right to share content as any other community.

For a lot of polers it’s more than just a passion, it’s their livelihood. This ban limits the audience you can reach, the potential engagement your posts will get and ultimately the growth of your Instagram account, which will affect the bottom line of businesses.

It matters because we matter. And we will never let the world convince us otherwise.

Fi xoxo






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