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Instagram takes down Instagram account of book about Instagram (2020)

Summary: Three professors, Tama Leaver, Tim Highfield and Crystal Abidin, wrote a book about culture on Instagram and how it developed.  The book, entitled Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures, was released in February of 2020.  Along with the book, the authors set up social media accounts to both promote the book and to continue the discussion about how Instagram culture has developed.  Not surprisingly, one of the social media accounts they set up was on Instagram itself.

On Instagram, the account would post images about Instagram (including examples of its content moderation issues). The authors were surprised in mid-September when Instagram shut down their account without any clear reason.

The authors submitted an appeal saying that they believed the takedown was in error, noting the nature of their work, and explaining why they did not believe the account’s reposting of others’ work as part of their research should violate copyright (though, the disabled account notice did not specify that it was for copyright infringement):

Our account has been disabled in error. The ‘polityinstabook’ account was used specifically for research purposes, by three visual social media researchers: Associate Professor Tama Leaver (Curtin University), Dr Tim Highfield (University of Sheffield) and Dr Crystal Abidin (Curtin University). We have collectively all done considerable research on Instagram, evident in our co-authored book ‘Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures’ published this year by Polity Press. This account was set up to document our continued research on Instagram.  It seems likely that the account was mistakenly disabled as some reposted content may appear at a glance to violate copyright. However these images have been reposted under the allowances of FAIR USE, for the purposes of SCHOLARLY RESEARCH. This account is used to highlight platform and cultural changes and impacts of Instagram, documenting them for research purposes (as is stated in our bio).

We respectfully request you review the disabling of our account and would appreciate the account being reactivated at your earliest convenience.

The authors also took to Twitter to generate some attention for the fact that their Instagram account was removed.

Decisions to be made by Instagram:

  • How much information should be provided to the operators of disabled accounts about why their account was disabled?
  • How should the company review appeals on disabled accounts, when the users are not told why their account was disabled?
  • Should academic researchers be treated differently than other types of users?

Questions and policy implications to consider:

  • Providing information about why an account was taken down makes it easier for those wrongly taken down to appeal and explain their story, while at the same time potentially making it easier for malicious actors to game the system. How should a company balance those competing goals?
  • Instagram is likely more aggressive in taking down accounts that have Instagram in their name, to avoid users believing the account is coming from the company itself. Is there a way to balance those interests with allowing authors to promote their book about the platform?

Resolution: Soon after the appeal was sent in, the account was reinstated, and Instagram sent the authors an apology, saying that disabling the account was a mistake.

It looks like your account was disabled by mistake. Your account has been reactivated, and you should now be able to log in. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.

If you have any issues getting back into your account, please let us know.

Thanks, The Instagram Team.

No further explanation was given to the authors.

Written by The Copia Institute, May 2021

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