03 Nov Popular Social Media Sites Banning Gun Range Photos
Is Instagram cracking down on legitimate photos of individuals enjoying themselves at the gun range? That’s the impression you might get reading this recent story, detailing how the platform removed a photo of Liberty Hangout Media Director Kaitlin Bennett and Infowars reporter Millie Weaver more than a year after it was first posted. According to Reclaim The Net, Instagram removed the photo, which shows the two aforementioned media personalities firing pistols at a shooting range, for “violating community guidelines.” Just what were those guidelines, and does this action fit into a wider suspected targeting of gun owners by big tech companies? We decided to delve into the details to learn more.
So What Happened With The Shooting Range Photo?
The long and short of the story, as we stated at the outset, is that Instagram took down the photo in question for violating their community guidelines on “violence or dangerous organizations.” At first glance, one might assume that it’s because the photo so prominently featured firearms, and that Instagram may have some kind of anti-gun bias.
There are, however, plenty of other gun-related Instagram pages that share firearms content without issue, and a closer look at Instagram’s community guidelines shows that they don’t mention guns in an explicit manner. While the guidelines do touch on the promotion of violence, those rules only warn against showing “graphic violence,” and state that encouraging or glorify violence is “never allowed.” In fact, reading over those community guidelines, you’d get the sense that Instagram is far more concerned with nudity on its platform than gun related posts:
“We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.”
Indeed, you’ll find article after article detailing Instagram’s efforts to hide “offensive and sexually explicit content,” along with creators bemoaning the company’s stance on this sort of artistic censorship:
“Censorship affects everybody. You know, if Instagram is telling you what kind of art you can look at or what kind of books you can read or what kind of podcasts you can listen to. Why should they be telling you that? Why? Think about that for a second. Like, there’s no reason a company, a corporation should be telling anyone what they should and shouldn’t look at, listen to and read.”
Which brings us back to that shooting range photo. Though Bennett and Weaver didn’t appear to violate any guidelines, Instagram can be selective in how it chooses to enforce policies. That line about “dangerous organizations” might well in reference to Bennett and Weaver’s employers (Liberty Hangout Media and InfoWars, respectively).
Instagram, if you weren’t already aware, is owned by social media giant Facebook. Earlier this year, Facebook banned InfoWars founder Alex Jones from their platform (along with several other personalities they deemed unsavory, like Louis Farrakhan), issuing the statement that they’ve “always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology.” See where we’re going with this?
In the quest to sanitize their platforms, the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, et al. seem to have taken opposition to so-called “dangerous individuals and organizations,” those they say “engage in violence or have an ideology that attacks individuals based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.” So, it may not be as about much the content of Bennett and Weaver’s post that led to its removal, but rather the associations of the individuals and their perceived ideologies. And, as Reclaim The Net points out, there may also be a “wider pattern of legal gun owners being targeted by big tech platforms,” for example:
“Earlier this month [September], the US Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered Apple and Google to reveal the names and locations of a gun scope app’s users. In August, a Connecticut man had his guns confiscated and was arrested after sharing a meme on Facebook. In addition to this, the Trump administration is considering a proposal to curb gun violence by monitoring mental states through smart devices such as Alexa, Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Google Home.”
Regardless, though, the fact that social media platforms have taken it upon themselves to censor content to such a degree, while it might seem a noble goal to some, is a path fraught with potential peril. As ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman warned in that NPR article on the banning of Alex Jones, “every time Facebook makes the choice to remove content, a single company is exercising an unchecked power to silence individuals and remove them from what has become an indispensable platform.”
While today that might just be “dangerous individuals and organizations,” the actions taken by Instagram open the door for them to crack down on plenty of other issues, including gun rights. Eidelman may well have said it best: “For the same reason that the Constitution prevents the government from exercising such power, we should be wary of encouraging its exercise by corporations that are answerable to their private shareholders rather than the broader public interest.”