Did You Know Instagram Is Hiding Your Bikini Posts?

On April 10th Instagram announced that it will start limiting the reach of “borderline content” – posts that don’t necessarily go against their community guidelines but are still sexually suggestive, racist or offensive. You might have heard about this policy update but probably didn’t really think it affects you. You probably don’t think you are posting anything that can be considered inappropriate. Think again.

Here are some of our posts that were marked as inappropriate content and demoted by Instagram:

katerina-yinon-travel-couple-photos             katerina-yinon-beach-couple-photos             instagram-borderline-content-guidelines-nudity

How Does It Work?

Instagram is training its AI algorithms to recognize borderline content and automatically limit its reach and discovery. Since the posts don’t go against Instagram’s community guidelines, they won’t be outright removed. They will also still be visible to your own followers. However, it will be harder for other users to find them as they will not be shown on hashtags, explorer, location or any other places where people search for new content.

Instagram won’t explicitly tell you your content is being demoted. That’s why this is often referred to as a “shadow ban”.  But you can check by looking at the hashtags or location of the post. Any borderline content won’t be visible there. Your post insights can also give you a hint. Below are screenshots of our stats for a typical post on the left vs. one that was “shadow banned” as inappropriate on the right. Both were taken 24 hours after the post went live:

instagram-post-insights-influencer               instagram-post-insights-shadowban-content

On the left you can see the typical post on our page has on average about 30% Discovery in the first 24 hours. That means 30% of the people who saw it were not following us. After a few more days that percentage goes even higher. This is usually due to the post showing up on explorer and hashtags where new people can discover our page. You can see the impressions coming from Hashtags and Other are pretty high.

On the right is a restricted post – it’s basically hidden and limited only to our own followers. Most impressions by far come from Home feed. Discovery is very low at 4% with barely any views coming from Hashtags and Other. As a result the overall reach of the post is suppressed and very few people outside of our following see it.

What Is Borderline Sexual Content?

When we first read about this policy we weren’t particularly worried. It doesn’t really affect us, we thought, as we don’t post sexual content. But soon we started to realize that the way Instagram defines inappropriate content is pretty broad.

We did a quick scroll through our feed and checked our friends’ posts showing a little more skin to see if they were also affected. And while we obviously can’t see their stats, we could check if the posts were showing on hashtags. Here are some of the posts that don’t show up on hashtags and seem to be marked as inappropriate by instagram:

nicole-isaacs-bikini-instagram-post            henry-jimenz-instagram-post            andre-demello-instagram-borderline-content

From the examples above you can see that even regular bikini photos that are not particularly scandalous are still considered inappropriate by Instagram. Topless men are not safe either. In some cases even your naked back can get marked as indecent.

What Does This Mean For You?

Of course, you can still post photos like that. They are technically allowed. But they will only be shown to people who already follow you and won’t help your page be discovered by new users. As a creator, you already know what that means. When your discovery goes down, fewer people outside of your own followers see your posts and the ability to grow your following organically also decreases.

This could also affect your ability to do brand collaborations. Brands care about performance. And working with certain brands after this policy went in effect would affect your performance. Fewer people will see your posts if they involve a swimwear brand collaboration, for example.

Our Thoughts

The intention of this policy is to help protect the community from content that is close to crossing the line of being pornographic. On the face of it, that’s a good thing. Instagram should take steps to keep its billions of users, some of which are very young, safe from harmful content.

But in reality, the effect is far more sweeping. From the posts we looked at, it seems like Instagram’s algorithm can’t tell the difference between a sexually suggestive post and someone simply hanging out at the beach in a bikini. So in effect this becomes a universal suppression of any account showing a little more skin on the platform. It will affect bikini brands, models, fitness and body positive accounts – far from the original intention of suppressing borderline inappropriate content. But what’s worse is that there are no clear guidelines on what is considered inappropriate by Instagram. Creators will now have to guess just how much skin is allowed.

When Facebook started to limit brands and creators on its platform, they started to leave. Nowadays no one creates interesting content for Facebook as you just don’t have the ability to grow organically there. By putting more and more restrictions on its creators without clear guidelines, Instagram is going down the same path.

What do you think? Has this policy affected you?

 

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18 Comments

  1. August 17, 2019 / 10:53 am

    Yes this new rule has been killing my page since the end of April. Im a personal trainer and gym owner, my page is a fitness lifestyle page. Ive never posted any content sexually suggestive content in underwear but im always shirtless in my photos… I live in miami who isn’t shirtless or in a swimsuit? Ever since this new rule my photos do not show up in the hashtags anymore and my following has actually gone backwards over the summer… I have no choice but to completely change the type of content on my page but this has been incredibly frustrating to figure out… and for the record I think this is a terrible move on instagrams part. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I lost multiple sponsors in the process, it would have been nice if IG could have just been upfront about the change. I have heard so many ppl complaining about the new Instagram, but it doesn’t look like its going back to what it used to be.

  2. Benny
    August 11, 2019 / 11:57 pm

    Yes, this negatively impacted my Fitness page. I’m an adult male and I’ve been losing weight. I was posting progress pics (me, facing forward, shirtless in the mirror, before & after side-by-side pics). At first it was as exactly as the author of this article described, meaning only the shirtless pics wouldn’t show up in hashtag searches. **NOTE: BE WARNED – it seems that after I’ve done this too many times, they completely shadow banned my account so that none of my photos show up in hashtag searches. After over 14 days of the shadow ban (and trying some recommended solutions) it appears my account was permanently shadow banned. For this reason, I deleted the account. **MY ADVICE: if any of you are posting a swimsuit, shirtless, or otherwise revealing photo, DON’T use any hashtags. They won’t do you any good on that particular photo, anyway given IG’s overly sensitive filter, and those hashtags could end up getting your whole account flagged as “inappropriate” or “in violation of community guidelines.”
    -bg

  3. Maria
    July 30, 2019 / 5:44 pm

    This is so frustrating. Posted a picture of myself today, in no way pornographic or offensive. Usually, until recently, I’ve got more likes on my posts from people not following me. For example: If I get 100 likes, 80 would be from people not following me. But today, I didn’t get ONE single like from noone not following me. I thought something was wrong with my account, until I found your site. I feel both sad, angry and in a way humiliated – what is so wrong with my post that it needs to be hidden.

    • Lala
      August 16, 2019 / 7:17 am

      I wear shorties & yoga tops & it gets shadowbanned. I told my husband they were banning people for wearing swim suits. His reply,so simple “It’s Summertime ” this goes against Women’s rights to show your body in a bathing suit , or yoga clothes designed for water & heat. We need a petition. Bathing suits are acceptable.

    • Katerina
      Author
      July 31, 2019 / 10:34 am

      It’s definitely very silly, we don’t even know what IG was thinking honestly! It’s also annoying that this information is not readily available and obvious so you have no idea what’s going on unless someone tells you :/

  4. July 29, 2019 / 2:22 pm

    This has been going on for some time, and means that as a photographer and a magazine publisher, we can no longer post swim-ware brand shoots on IG, and expect to attract any new followers. This is a ridiculous level of censorship, and no-one at IG ever answers our ‘there’s a problem’ requests. The AI based approach even led to a photo of a fully covered model, in workout pants, being shadow banned because the AI couldn’t tell if she had workout pants on or not, based on their color. So the brand got no new followers for that line, and that impacted sales, and my chance of getting a second shoot. This censorship is imposing victorian values onto IG, and directly impacting my business.

    • Katerina
      Author
      July 31, 2019 / 10:33 am

      This is the worst in our opinion, it is discriminating against legitimate completely normal businesses, and indeed “victorian values” is a perfect way to put it… Very sad that IG is going in that direction!!

  5. Julia
    July 20, 2019 / 11:44 am

    Have you heard about the cases of removing photos due to this policy? My regular, chilling-by-the-pool bikini photo got recently removed from my post from May (the other non-bikini photos in the post are still there) without any explanation or notification from Instagram. I only discovered it by accident and it seemed so odd and unjustified. I was wondering whether it has something to do with these policy changes.

    • Katerina
      Author
      July 23, 2019 / 2:09 am

      We haven’t heard of that but wouldn’t be surprised to be honest :/ Expect anything from Instagram these days..

  6. July 17, 2019 / 6:23 am

    Happened to me too and I kept wondering how a bikini and a t-shirt could be seen as nudity. Now I understand…
    From someone who just started a few months ago on the platform, it is really really frustrating…
    Thank you for coming up with this explanation

    • Katerina
      Author
      July 18, 2019 / 3:41 am

      Lyne, we had the exact same reaction! We don’t understand why IG would want to censor pretty normal beach pics :/ but oh well! At least we can be aware of this and have a better idea of why our reach gets limited…

      • Lyne
        July 23, 2019 / 1:33 am

        Exactly but damn…I tried a couple of changes. No good result yet. I’ll let you know if I find a way to work around this

  7. July 12, 2019 / 8:07 am

    Ah this keeps happening to me too! At first I thought Instagram was blocking my hashtags, then I realised it only applied to bikini pictures but couldn’t understand why as they’re not ‘sexual’ by any means (mainly just surfing). I thought the restriction only applied to my account but it seems to be a universal issue. Gosh, all the insta politics is becoming so draining. Bring back being free creators! ✌️

    • Katerina
      Author
      July 14, 2019 / 11:25 am

      I know :/ things are crazy on IG these days…

  8. Daniella
    June 3, 2019 / 4:08 pm

    That’s a little extreme… bikini posts?!? Naked backs? What’s next, we have to cover our hair?

    • Yinon
      June 12, 2019 / 2:56 am

      Yup, so crazy what is happening on IG these days..

  9. Madetwotravel
    June 3, 2019 / 10:36 am

    Wow I never heard about that I will try to notice! Thanks for keeping us in the loop guys 😊

    • Yinon
      June 12, 2019 / 2:55 am

      Thanks so much guys 🙂 It is a sneaky one because you might not even notice it but it can hurt your account a lot

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