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SIDECAR Humour: Timmy used a bad word…on Instagram

Instagram's wonky terms of use

Editor’s warning: This column gets into the fun-filled freaky world of language, which involves some terms that get close to expletives and words that some may find offensive. If that’s not your cup of Java, stop reading now. Please don’t read on and then phone or email us with tales of how you were emotionally scarred, there were “triggers” that reminded you of your drowned puppy, Scraps, or it wounded your delicate sensibilities. We’re betting you’re way cooler than that and will love this, but if naughty words really do bother you… hey, we warned ya! 

When Kim Kardashian posted a bikini-clad selfie, she reminded us what female breasts are actually for by succinctly captioning her photo with two baby-bottle emoji.

Kim is not a user who needs to use search terms for her posts to be seen. But the Instagram hashtag is a confusing creature. While it’s obvious why hashtags like #penis, #whore and #spic are banned from Instragram, equally offensive search terms get a free pass. So, what’s their strategy? Are they serious about making users obey basic terms of use?

With potentially problematic content around every corner, Instagram has everything from dick-pics to Islamophobia to contend with. Bearing in mind that not a single user has ever paid a thin dime for the service, hashtag bans have created stir after stir, yet it remains laughably easy to find “inappropriate” content.

Communications from Instagram explain that terms are banned, because they add no value to the post, or they’re being used intentionally to make inappropriate content more visible. In response to why #iPhone and several other harmless terms were banned Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, said, “some tags… were too generic and didn’t provide enough end-user value.” So…they’re annoying.

There is no public list of banned terms, but there is an apparent laziness when hashtags like #ass and #boobs are banned but #chinkyeyes and #retarded are usable. Then again, some tags that might be expected to produce inappropriate posts are totally innocent: #fatf@uck, for example produces a surprising number of fish.

While attempts to protect users from pictures of overt sexuality, hate-speech and people who are just irritating are admirable, they’ve stopped making sense. The following list functions as a portrait of their inconsistent censorship. Enjoy!

Hate-speech:

#chinkyeyes: A completely usable hashtag that produces 119,292 very predictable results.

#wetback: A widely used derogatory term for illegal immigrants to the U.S. from Mexico produces 13,044 posts.

#whitetrash: Popular hashtag with photos that involve a lot of Budweiser and dirt biking, producing 204,723 results.

#slut: Simply doesn’t come up as a search term. But #slutt does, with a surprisingly few 52,930 posts, which are mostly porn.

#feminazi: This isn’t banned, but it also isn’t especially popular. The content attached to the term is outdated and so poorly put together that it is more sad than offensive.  #meninism on the other hand is gaining worrying popularity.

Sexuality:

#boobs: Pretty much banned from the beginning, whereas #boobz does not appear when typed in to the search bar. However, #boobzilla is not blocked in any way. And #boobsweat produces far fewer cheeky post-workout selfies, and much more actual porn. (A tag was banned after being previously used, but older posts are still found on the API site, and the following message appears after scrolling through about 20 of them: “Recent posts from #boobs are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.”)

#xxx: Doesn’t show up. But what hashtag will I use for my whisky? Darn.

#c%nt: The ‘c’ word singular does not show up as a search term in singular form, but the plural, #c%nts is apparently fine, and produces 104,565 posts.

#EDM: As an abbreviation for electronic dance music, it was banned in August 2015. It was often associated with the apparel, or lack thereof, worn at live concerts.

#eggplantfriday: Slang used to find pictures of men in their undies whose *ahem* bulges resemble an eggplant. No joke. When it was banned in January, it caused quite a stir.

#xxx: Doesn’t show up. But what hashtag will I use for my whisky? Darn.

#curvy: Brings up primarily nude and almost nude women and was thus banned from use. But women who identify the term as an empowering qualifier objected and began using variations like #curvvy and #curvyy. The original is still banned even with the significant backlash.

Weirdness:

#gunsforsale: Not banned but it does come with a warning including “Please ensure that you are following the laws that apply to you.”

#ana: Bad news if this is actually your name—this search term is now permanently related to anorexia, and the community of sufferers encouraging each other within the disorder. Before seeing the posts, users are shown a warning that includes the following: “For information and support with eating disorders please tap on learn more.”

#weed: Even though some states in the U.S. and many countries have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, the term was banned sometime after the 3 million post mark. #maryjane however is good to go, with almost 3 million posts of its own.

Transcontinental Media G.P.