Speaking with the BBC on Friday, Instagram’s public policy director for Europe said that the company will be altering its tactics for dealing with any posts related to conversion therapy. While the platform has condemned ads for conversion therapy services for a while and has community guidelines calling out any posts that attack Instagrammers based on their “sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation,” until now, some posts promoting conversion therapy weren’t seen as falling under that umbrella. But as of today, any content linked to the practice is getting a blanket ban across the platform.
We’ve long known that conversion therapy — the practice of “converting” queer people’s sexuality or gender identity through the power of religion and wishful thinking — is “traumatic,” “cruel,” and nothing short of “torture” for many of the folks who go through it. So in some ways, this decision should’ve been a no-brainer for Instagram, which has become a gathering place for LGBTQ people over the years. Instagays have become so mainstream that majo television networks have started writing sketches about them, and people have written pieces extolling the best and criticising the worst corners of Instagram’s queer communities. If you look for hashtags and posts related to conversion therapy, some of the most popular results are from #conversiontherapysurvivors and #conversiontherapydropouts.
Because Instagram, like every other platform, counts on automation to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to upholding these sorts of policies, I’m sure we can expect some of these posts to slip through the cracks, ban or no ban. But it’s a step in the right direction, following the lead of countries like Germany, Albania and more than a dozen U.S. states that have banned conversion therapy against minors, adults, or both.
It’s unclear what spurred this move on Instagram’s part. When Gizmodo reached out, a company spokesperson only noted that this was an extension to the current ban on promoting conversion therapy in its ads, along with the same statement that was given to the BBC:
We don’t allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services. We are always reviewing our policies and will continue to consult with experts and people with personal experiences to inform our approach.
Instagram was bought out by Facebook back in 2012, and both companies, like the spokesperson said, have guidelines against attacking people for their gender identity or sexuality. But they’ve also both had their fair share of issues protecting LGBTQ communities against these attacks, especially when they happen outside of Facebook’s U.S.-based purview. Earlier this month, a crew of LGBTQI+ activist groups based in the Middle East and North Africa petitioned the company to “to halt the use of its platform for spreading bigotry and hate” against queer people in the Middle East, where being anything but cis and straight can land you in prison or worse.
Facebook’s circle might not “allow” homophobic hate speech, but when its algorithms and overseas moderators continue to say that Arabic and Hebrew memes about beating gay people to death are A-ok — ostensibly because they happened in Arabic or Hebrew — that point kind of falls flat. Condemning any attacks against the gay community is only worth something when the “gay community” isn’t only based in San Fransisco.