Did you know there are tags banned on Instagram? More to the point, did you know that hashtags for bipolar disorder, depression, self-harm, suicide, eating disorders and other mental health tags are banned on Instagram? Up until recently, I didn’t know this. Upon finding it out, however, I think it’s incredibly important to speak out against it. While I realize that Instagram may have the best of intentions with these bans, banning mental health/mental illness tags on Instagram is not the way to help people.
What Tags Are Banned on Instagram
According to Chelsea Evans of Markitors, many tags are banned on Instagram and, of course, most of them have nothing to do with mental health. And, honestly, I have no idea why most of them are banned. Examples include #brain, #curvy, #woman (not #man, by the way) and about a whole whack of others that, to me, make no sense to ban. And while I have no doubt Evans put a lot of work into making this list, she’s missing many critical mental health hashtags that are banned on Instagram.
The banned tags on Instagram that relate to mental health that I’ve seen include:
- #proana (this is related to anorexia)
- #promia (this is related to bulimia)
And yet the following mental health Instagram tags are not banned:
- #ana (this is a euphemism for anorexia, often used by people who are “pro ana”)
- #mia (this is a euphemism for bulimia, often used by people who are “pro mia”)
(Things like #attackthecapitol and #terrorism are not banned, by the way. Bipolar disorder is scarier than terrorism, apparently.)
I’m sure there are many others as well.
What these lists show is that these bannings are practically arbitrary. #Bipolardisorder is somehow scary and bad but #bipolar is okay? Give me a break.
(Quick note here: between bipolar disorder chatter and antipsychiatry chatter, I know which one hurts people and that’s the one that is allowed. This, again, point to the arbitrary nature of these bans.)
What Happens When You Use a Banned Mental Health Tag on Instagram?
If you tag a post on Instagram with one of the banned hashtags, nothing happens. You are never made aware that the hashtag is banned. That’s why I had no idea it was happening for so long. I, for example, use the hashtag #depression all the time. (What I suspect happens is that it hurts your reach and influence, but that is just a suspicion on my part.)
The most obvious way of knowing that a mental health tag on Instagram is banned is by searching for it. If you search for #eatindisorder, you get no results, but you do get this message:
Can we help?
Posts with words you’re searching for often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death. If you’re going through something difficult, we’re like to help.
After you say that you don’t need help a couple of times, you can get to the posts with that hashtag. What you cannot do, however, is follow that hashtag.
In other words, all this time I’ve been producing posts for the depression community (among others) and they can’t even follow the hashtag to get them. Moreover, I think Instagram has been penalizing me for using hashtags that I didn’t even know were banned because they “often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death,” even though, I, Natasha Tracy, am not producing posts that would do that.
Banned Mental Health Hashtags on Instagram Are Bullshit
Let’s be honest; this is bullshit. Not only is it clear that the banned mental health hashtags on Instagram are pretty much arbitrary, but it’s also clear that they’re easy to get around if, indeed, your purposes are nefarious. So if you’re trying to cause harm to people with bipolar disorder, you would simply use the #bipolar hashtag instead of the #bipolardisorder hashtag. It’s ridiculous.
Banning Instagram Tags on Mental Health/Mental Illness Hurts People
I’ve read many arguments as to why banning mental health tags on Instagram is misguided. One argument is that people use hashtags to communicate with their community. For example, if you have an eating disorder and want to stay in touch with everyone else with an eating disorder, then you’ll likely want to follow the #eatingdisorder tag. This allows you to find people who are battling just like you that you identify with. It allows you to get support. It allows you to find others to connect with. It’s these connections that can actually form a support network and help people get and stay better.
But the thing I really object to is the suggestion that merely talking about mental health/mental illness topics is somehow harmful. Talking about my life involves mental health/mental illness topics. My work is all mental health and mental illness. These are things that comprise my brain on a daily basis — not to hurt people, but to help people. But banning tags on Instagram that relate to mental health and mental illness suggests that there is something wrong with talking about these subjects. In fact, it implies there is something wrong with the people who are dealing with these subjects. If we cannot talk about difficult subjects, then we can never hope to make them better. If we cannot openly and honestly talk about bipolar disorder and depression and self-harm and eating disorders then we can’t hope to make the lives of people battling these things better.
Of course, a person might tag something that is pro-self-harm with the #selfharm tag. Of course, a person could tag an anti-bipolar message with the term #bipolardisorder. But just because a tiny percentage of people would do that doesn’t mean that everyone should be banned from using tags that legitimately indicate important subjects.
I don’t have an issue with Instagram banning tags that are nothing but insults and epithets. That makes sense. But banning tags that are merely words that in and of themselves are not harmful is ridiculous, unfair and discriminatory.
I understand that Instagram’s motivation is positive. I understand they are trying to help people. But what they are doing further stigmatizes people for merely talking about subjects Instagram thinks are dangerous. If they want to include a warning with certain hashtags, well, that’s their prerogative, but actually banning hashtags is, without a doubt, a net negative and not a positive. We — the people who actually deal with these subjects every single day — need to be supported in our expressions and attempts to help ourselves and others and what Instagram is doing right now is the opposite. They are harming us. They are harming me and my bipolar brothers and sisters by trying to erase us and others with mental illness.
Find me on Instagram here, where I will not be invisible and I will be talking about mental health and mental illness (and occasionally post cat pictures).
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