Complaints flood social media as Indigenous stories disappear on Instagram
TORONTO -- Instagram says it has fixed a problem that saw the removal of multiple posts about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), and other social justice movements from its platform, but the company’s explanation and apology fell short of satisfying some users.
The issue came to light on Thursday as people noticed the disappearance of posts that had gone up on Wednesday, May 5, which is the national day of awareness of MMIWG in Canada, also known as Red Dress Day. The day was also recognized this year in the United States as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day.
“It’s been a pretty active conversation for the past 24 hours since we all woke up and started seeing … our stories are missing,” Emily Laurent Henderson, Toronto-based Inuk arts and culture writer, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Friday.
Henderson had posted on Wednesday a four-part primer on ways to support the safety of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, then woke up on Thursday to find out her posts had disappeared from the feeds of people who had shared them.
“There was kind of this creeping sensation of ‘something’s wrong here’,” she said.
Several other users reported similar problems.
“We’re getting reports that Instagram is deleting #MMIWG2S posts/stories (incl. ours),” the non-profit National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center tweeted. The group set up a page for people to submit screenshots of posts that had been removed from Instagram, and by Thursday afternoon it had received 92 reports, it said.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said in a tweet on Thursday that it had fixed the issue, describing it as a global technical issue that affected re-shared posts, as well as archive and highlight functions. It said the issue was not related to any hashtag used or specific content.
“We’re really sorry to everyone impacted, especially those using their platform to raise awareness about important causes like the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Red Dress Day,” David Troya-Alvarez of Facebook Corporate Communications said in an emailed statement on Friday.
Tech analyst Ritesh Kotak said that he doesn’t think Instagram was purposefully removing posts, but that they need to provide more transparency over what did happen.
“When it comes to these types of technical issues, because these platforms are so prevalent in our lives, I would expect a little bit more transparency when it comes to what exactly went wrong here,” he told CTV News.
He said that by being so vague about the problem, people have begun to fill in the blanks which doesn’t look good for the company.
“When transparency is lacking, individuals start to question the platform and its motives,” he added.
While much online discussion focused on MMIWG postings, the issue also appeared to impact users posting about other social justice issues, including #SOSColombia and #BlackLivesMatter.
Marwa Fatafta, a Palestinian policy analyst at non-profit Access Now covering the Middle East and North Africa, said the Instagram issue had also affected people posting about forced displacements in the East Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
“Activists are reporting and documenting police violence and settler attacks, and yesterday we started receiving a huge amount of reports from users and people tweeting all of their content on Instagram related to Sheikh Jarrah is being deleted,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
She said the explanation from Instagram was not satisfactory.
“They have a public commitment to notify their users and provide an explanation or transparency when they remove content and suspend accounts on the one hand,” she said. “On the other hand these removals seem to be only related to -- at least in the context of Palestine-Israel-- only content related to Sheikh Jarrah.”
Henderson also questioned the notion of a purely technical explanation given the number of MMIWG postings affected. She said the removals were particularly difficult to deal with coming amidst the significance of Red Dress day.
“Social media, Instagram especially, is so important right now because we can't gather. So our digital worlds, our digital space is where we're gathering right now and it's also where we're disseminating information and vital resources for people,” she said.
“To see that suddenly scrubbed and erased was really it felt violent and it was incredibly discouraging to know that instead of just being able to process this day in peace we now have to deal with you know why this is happening why is this being erased,” she said.
Henderson isn’t the only one who isn’t buying Instagram’s reasoning. Shayla Stonechild, founder of a podcast and non-profit that works to amplify Indigenous women’s voices called Matriarch Movement, said this isn’t the first time Indigenous women have been silenced.
“We have always been silenced as Indigenous women, we don't have to look very far to see that that's still happening,” she told CTV News.
She said she posted a poll on her Instagram stories asking whether people had their MMIWG2S stories removed and 800 people voted yes.
“My question is who is running, and who gets to decide what has to be posted on social media and what gets amplified and what doesn't?” she asked. “Whose agenda are we abiding by?”