Instagram is apologizing to pole dancers for hiding posts containing some of the artform's most-used hashtags.
For most of July, posts containing dozens of popular hashtags including #poledancing, #poletrick and #polefitness were hidden from the site’s Explore and Hashtag sections, which both aggregate and display all users’ posts. It is believed that hundreds, or potentially thousands, of posts were affected.
Because those in the online pole community use the hashtags to connect with and learn new techniques from each other, dancers are calling Instagram's actions a “purge” targeted towards them.
Lori Glaza, a former licensed veterinary technician in Michigan who is pursuing pole dance instructing, had her posts hidden by Instagram. These included a handful of posts in which she was demonstrating poses.
“This form of ‘self-censoring’ has been plaguing strippers and sex workers long before they started purging pole fitness tags,” she wrote to CTVNews.ca via Instagram direct message.
Searching affected hashtags brought up a notification that some posts were being hidden because they did not meet the platform's community guidelines, although a spokesperson for Instagram parent company Facebook told CTVNews.ca by email that the posts from pole dancers “did not violate our policies.”
Nonetheless, the social media giant is still hiding some posts that use the hashtags in question.
"We apologize for the mistake,” the spokesperson said, adding that it was “never our intention to silence members of the community.”
Searches of several hashtags on Sunday led to pages saying recent posts are “hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.”
Nicole Oke, a pole dancer and tech worker in London, Ont. feels her sport “will always be misunderstood and there will always be people who refuse to have an open mind about it.”
“Pole dancing isn’t hurting anyone,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “I want people to see pole as something that is making women (or men) feel appreciative of their body.”
Pole dancers often abbreviate their activity to "pd" for use in hashtags, with the likes of #pddeadlift and #pdayesha being used to reference specific poses.
Canadian pole instructor Kelly Swain, who uses the hashtag system to connect to others, said she found it disheartening “to have that all taken away from me because we wear shorts and a sports bra? (and) we dance on a vertical pole?”.
NEARLY 18,000 PEOPLE FROM AROUND THE WORLD PETITIONED
Oke and Swain first became aware of the so-called pole-dancing “cleanse” after seeing pole dancing blog “Blogger On Pole” and popular dancer Elizabeth Blanchard from California calling it out on Facebook.
“The sad part is that these are many of our most popular hashtags and an integral part of OUR community!” Blanchard wrote on Facebook. The instructor and kinesiologist listed nearly 20 hashtags she personally noticed had been associated with hidden posts, many of which continue to be hidden.
Blanchard told CTVNews.ca over Facebook Messenger that she has been “inundated with emails and other messages about this IG ban.” Popular instagrammers such as United Pole Artists and Pole Dance Nation have similarly called out Instagram for hiding dancers’ posts.
And now, the owners of those accounts along with Glaza, Blanchard, Oke and Shimmy have added their names to a Change.Org petition of nearly 18,000 others from across the world, including amateur pole dance athletes and dancers, to call out Instagram.
According to the petition, they want the posts not to be hidden because what they’re doing is “dance art” and “fitness training;” and they acknowledge posts can be “sexy and entertaining but it does not violate Instagram’s terms of service.”
“It is not profane, pornographic, injurious or hateful. What we do requires skill, strength and discipline,” the post reads, stating that the posts do not violate Instagram’s criteria.
The petition also asks them to review its algorithm and settings, and prompt signatories to use the new protest hashtag #whereisthepoleloveInstagram.
Nearly all of the people CTVNews.ca spoke to mentioned how selective Instagram “censoring” appears to be on the app.
Pole dancing writer Blogger On Pole has been following Instagram’s ongoing issues with social media posts relating to sex work, stripping and pole dancing, which the site’s guidelines deem inappropriate.
In one blog post, she’s alleged that during this most recent “purge” there was a glaring double standard in that hashtags such as #femalefitness had been hidden but not #malefitness. Posts using #femalefitness appear to have since been restored and searchable on the app.
She said “Instagram has no problem running paid advertising for the latest J-Lo movie ‘Hustlers’ featuring top Hollywood actresses … demonstrating their pole dance skills, but actual real life dancers and athletes are deemed ‘inappropriate.’”
A Facebook spokesperson said Instagram doesn’t censor anyone and denies showing bias for specific communities. They added that Instagram only takes action on content reported to them to decide whether it adheres to community guidelines.