When you think of queer censorship on social media, you may think of a friend who was put in “Facebook Jail” for 30 days because someone reported a random, seemingly innocuous comment.
Or, on a broader scale, China and Saudi Arabia may come to mind.
But it’s happening a lot more than you would expect, including to organizations in South Florida. PRISM is a victim of violating one of Instagram’s policies, but has no idea which one, why they’ve been taken down, or how to resolve the issue. PRISM founder Maxx Fenning said it’s all taken him by surprise.
“On Jan. 6, while using the app, a message popped up on our screen that said our account had been flagged for ‘suspicious activity,’" he said.
Fenning did account verification and forgot about the incident until he was on another account.
“I went to look at our post about Cervical Health Awareness Month from a few days prior [on] my personal account, I realized that PRISM's Instagram was nowhere to be found. After attempting to log in, we were given this error message: ‘Your account has been disabled for violating our terms. Learn how you may be able to restore your account.’”
Fenning said they’ve never been flagged before, and can’t get a reason for the removal. Instagram has no helpline to talk to someone.
A Costly Ordeal
PRISM’s mission is to “...provide LGBTQ+ youth in South Florida … the education and support they need to live a happy, healthy life … to make sure everyone feels included in their community, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” Reaching those lofty ideals isn’t easy, and it’s certainly not cheap.
They reach about 35,000 people a month on Instagram, and losing that platform not only cuts off users from important health information, it cuts off a key income stream. “Almost half of PRISM's individual donations come through Instagram,” Fenning said. “We've likely lost out on thousands of dollars in donations within the past month alone.”
They made a second account and, after a brief fight with a “bot” over spamming issues, they got a second account up and running. He said it makes every keystroke seem like a perilous risk.
“It is still a very precarious situation. We've gotten the same pop-up to confirm our phone number at least twice this week, and we were hesitant to even have the head of our social media department log in too soon, for fear that a new login might set off their spam detection.”
PRISM’s fight isn’t over, and may be turning in their favor.
“We have finally gotten in contact with a staff member over at [parent company] Meta to conduct an investigation on the first account."
But for now, they try to make up for lost time and money. PRISM isn’t alone.
Queer Censorship is Common
Fenning said this isn’t a PRISM problem, it’s a problem that affects any marginalized group.
“As a queer creator myself on TikTok, I've experienced time and time again the way that people and algorithms target LGBT content at significantly higher rates. As someone who follows queer creators, I've also seen how widespread this is.”
After years of attacks on LGBT organizations, Fenning is glad to see people taking notice.
“GLAAD's Social Media Index, which was initially meant to rate large social media platforms based on how they treat LGBTQ+ users, pivoted to discussing how social media platforms can improve after it realized it would need to give every platform a failing score.
“Queer youth need to know that they can access resources that help them live happy and healthy lives, and queer creators and organizations need to know that they'll be able to do that without fear of censorship."
Taking the Fight to Social Media
Fenning and PRISM are now using social media to fight back. To combat queer censorship, they created #SavePRISM on several platforms, including Instagram. People can use the hashtag and share stories on how PRISM affects them, a platform refusing to put a stop to homophobia, or content removed for discussing race or queer topics.
Fenning said that for every post made using the hashtag, a growing list of businesses, organizations, and individuals donate $1.
Those who want to learn more or make a donation pledge themselves can go to www.prismfl.org/saveprism.