Trigger warning: The article contains mentions of gender-based violence
In the algorithms lies thinly-veiled sexism, only it is not that thin anymore.
George Elliot was one of the most paramount literary lionesses of the Victorian Era. Only, George was not her real name. It was Mary Ann Evans. Having a penchant for brilliant storytelling, Mary had to use a male pseudonym to be a published author. Why? Because in the 1800s, women were neither appreciated nor given respect if they decided to write, therefore resorting to concealing behind male nomenclature.
It is 2022, and to not get banned, female artists are concealing their nipples with their male counterparts, changing their gender to men in their bios to avoid being shadow banned on Facebook-owned Instagram. It has been centuries, and one might contemplate patriarchy’s retreat by now, but there it lies, chuckling and seeping through the digital dominion, while standing close to its best pal, misogyny.
Imagine this. It has been an excruciating day at work, and you are back in your apartment trying to decide whether to order dinner or take the pain of cooking it yourself, and somehow you are transported to the escapist world of Instagram Reels. After three scrolls, you hear a cigar-crunching, bald-white man, sunglasses embossed, blabbering, “Women don’t understand how the world works.” Your blood boils, but you scroll further, trying to escape the dystopian narrative of the real world, and after five more scrolls, he’s there again, this time teaching his followers how to handle women, “Slap, Slap, Grab, Choke, Shut Up Bitch, Sex”. If not a rape guide, what is it?
The man was none other than Andrew Tate, a former kickboxer, who, a few days back was eventually banned from social media giants Instagram, Tik-Tok, and Facebook. YouTube, too acted in accordance and debarred the self-proclaimed misogynist from the platform. But if you think this happened within fractions of seconds after his content went online, you are blatantly mistaken.
When women decide to take ownership of their bodies, Instagram takes no time to herald it against ‘Policy Guidelines’, promulgating their art as merciless mistakes, but when chauvinists like ‘Andrew Tate’ openly give out ‘Rape-Guides’, platforms like Tik-Tok, and Instagram do not bat an eye.
Certainly not until they receive a major backlash. It was only after several activities and prominent pages called out his dangerous misogyny and raised their voices against him that he was banned from these platforms that dominate today’s digital discourse. Now, for reference, this vicious man in 2017 declared, “Rape Victims Must Bear Some Responsibility”, and is not new in making statements that not only objectify but demean the entire existence of women and people from the LGBTQIA+ Communities.
But even then, a man with a history of sexual allegations against him, who was terminated from an episode of Big Brother after his video of assaulting a woman with a belt surfaced, was not only given a voice on the platform but the reality of this treacherous creature was sidelined, and Tik Tok and Instagram could not recommend his content enough.
The Guardian, did an investigation to invigilate Tik-Tok’s Algorithm. They created an account as a teenage boy, and after mere scrolls, the account was bombarded with misogynistic content by Andrew Tate. When his video was watched two times, the platform bombarded his videos. This had been a regular sight, and the likes of Tate had been responsible for creating misogynistic videos. Following that, the platform started recommending content by micro-misogynists, with a lesser following than the likes of Tate and his other fan pages.
Dangerous men corrupting young minds are suitable, but how dare women own their sexualities, is the narrative justified by the action of these platforms? And it’s 2022, we do not seek shallow speeches. We Demand Action. In an interview with HuffPost, tremendous women mentioned that their reach had been dead on Instagram, and it was awful for them as they relied on it for their businesses.
These women included photographers, artists, pole dance performers, and athletes. However, they observed something strange. Three days after they changed their gender on the platform, their reach turned exemplary again. These women have been running their pages this way ever since. Ironic to see that even today, when modernisation is at its peak, patriarchy seeps everywhere, trying to convert women’s voices to indistinct chatter.
So, Instagram, now owned by Facebook (Meta) will shadowban women artists for celebrating their bodies, portraying provocative imageries, and representing millions of young girls while hampering their businesses, but “Rape-Threats” become an abstruse passage for these platforms to comprehend. Where are they getting their policies framed from, Donald Trump?
Hashtags like #female fitness and #woman have also been shadowbanned by Instagram while #malefitness and #men thrive. Men are not at all the subject of concern in their policies, which seem to revolve around women, and people from marginalised communities. It, therefore, becomes inevitable that female-owned accounts will suffer the most. They fail to even take non-binary and trans people into the account.
In an interview with The New York Times, Joanne Leah, a Brooklyn-based Photographer popular for her artwork of hued-embossed bodies, mentioned how she has about one post removed every month. “Every time something gets censored, it feels like a punch in the gut”, she added.
There seems to be a common notion. For these platforms, loud, rage-filled misogynists are commodities meant for consumption. They do not bother about the influence it imparts, only that it’s being consumed massively. So much so that students of thirteen to fifteen years of age, ardent admirers of Tate, refused to do their homework after their teacher, a woman, gave them homework stating that women belong to the kitchen.
Owing to the discriminatory policy, LGBTQ+ folks, people of colour, plus sized women become major victims. When photos of model Nyome Nicholas-Williams, were banned from the platform, only after the platform received a major backlash of being race and body-obsessed were they revived. When indigenous people become heroes of their tale, when all body sizes and all skin colours are celebrated, the discriminatory discourse of these platforms attempts to fade all efforts in all these years to irrelevancy.
In April, the incompetency of Instagram to ensure cruel, violent, and slurry messages remain a prominent sight was reinstated by The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a nonprofit focused on online hate and misinformation. The CCDH worked with five high-profile women, including actor Amber Heard, and analysed over 8,717 direct messages those women received. As per the report, “Harassment, violent threats, image-based sexual abuse can be sent by strangers, at any time and in large volumes, directly into your DMs without consent, and platforms do nothing to stop it.” And one can very easily guess who is at the receiving end of these awful and unsolicited messages—women, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQIA Community.
I do not know of one woman who has not been sent an unwanted text or unsolicited pictures of private parts, but taking action against that seems too much of a task from these Digital Tycoons.
These tech companies who herald themselves as progressive are still borrowing rules from morality codes dictated years ago by men. Men use terms like “whore” as a recreational discourse, and Popular Creators with Millions of Followers, like Jake Paul, and Logan Paul, subconsciously promulgate misogyny and get away with it in the name of fun. These videos are still there, existing in full glory. In the Indian context, creators like Elvish Yadav and Lakshay Chaudhary have long heralded their comedy content with sexist undertones, at times judging women for their outfits, and body size. As always, the target audience of these creators are young men, who are quick to take notes when disrespecting women is a subject.
The inference reverberates, “When men objectify women, that’s customary, but how dare women take it upon themselves to own their sexualities.”
Behind these social media giants, lies faces. Human Faces. These policies enunciate the thought process of the policymakers. Behind these algorithms lies thinly veiled sexism, only it’s not so thin anymore. Perhaps, these incidents are a valid explanation of prejudices embedded.
Not to mention such forms of misogyny are always intersectional, carrying the essence of Homophobia, Racism, and Body Shaming along.
It’s as if folks running these tech giants identify liberated women with Negative Connotations, and when men contradict their policies, Digital Veterans go, “Well, they are women. When they witness sexism in real life, how hard can it be managing it online?”
But the impact of these platforms is not merely constrained to boosting sales. The subconscious impact on minds is unflinchingly significant. They, therefore, need to do better. We remember the story of Hunter Moore and revenge porn. If not monitored, there is going to be a Hunter Moore or an Andrew Tate around each corner of the world, and we don’t want the world to become “A Handmaid’s Tale”, do we?
Women, and people from marginalised communities battle for their existence, even today. They demand their basic rights to portray their artistic alchemy and to speak to millions whom they represent. It becomes the imperative duty of the platform to accentuate that, not subdue them by shadow ban. We do not want this generation to constrain their thoughts to themselves and explode. Unlike us, they have the means to be represented, and they must be. If I had seen someone like me growing up, I would not get devoured by anxiety and inferiority every time I witnessed a conventionally beautiful human.
Videos of the likes of Tate and other micro-misogynists still do rounds by fan pages, and the comments under those videos are bombarded with the likes of “Tate is the GOAT”, “No one does it like Tate”, “Start on a new Platform Andrew, we are with you”.
These platforms must understand that online misogyny leads to real-life violence. It is way past time that people and platforms stop making excuses.
It should certainly not take distorted lives for these platforms to take their lessons.
Featured image source: Shreya Tingal for Feminism In India