Women are listing their gender on Instagram as "male" in order to cheat a potentially sexist algorithm change that took place earlier this year.
The Instagram community guidelines state that nudity and inappropriate content is not allowed on the platform. "This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed."
However back in April, the Instagram algorithm changed to demote certain posts, even if they don't technically break the rules set by the platform itself, HuffPost reports.
"We have begun reducing the spread of posts that are inappropriate but do not go against Instagram’s Community Guidelines, limiting those types of posts from being recommended on our Explore and hashtag pages," they wrote in an announcement.
"For example, a sexually suggestive post will still appear in Feed if you follow the account that posts it, but this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore or hashtag pages."
The change was part of updates that Facebook announced in an attempt "to keep people safe and maintain the integrity of information that flows through the Facebook family of apps."
So far this doesn't sound too bad. However, many people believe this reduction of reach is disproportionately affecting marginalized communities.
Last month Salty – an online platform for women, trans people, and non-binary people – conducted a survey that found LGBTQIA+ frequently report having their accounts deleted, their content flagged unnecessarily, or their accounts disabled for breaching community guidelines with no further explanation.
As one Instagram user succinctly describes the problem:
One Instagram user – an Australian pole dancing performer and teacher who relies on finding new students through social media – found that her own engagement levels on the platform were declining over a period of several months, HuffPost reports. Believing she was being shadowbanned (having her post reach reduced on Instagram without being informed) she decided to experiment by switching her gender to "male" on the platform, as others had suggested it would increase engagement. People appear to believe that content is more likely to be flagged as being against community guidelines – as the Salty report suggested – if they aren't listed as male.
Within a few days of the online gender change, she found that her engagement levels had returned to normal. Other users, responding to campaign group Everybody Visible, also reported their engagement levels going back up after making the change.
"I recently changed mine and I’ve noticed WAY more engagement," one user wrote, whilst another said: "Just changed my gender and voila – no shadowban!"
Though others have not noticed the effect, it remains that women feel that they need to change their gender online in order to deal with potential discrimination on online platforms.