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Pro-Life Group Claims Instagram Is Shadow Banning It, Suspects Pro-Choice Activist Played A Role

  • Pro-life group is accusing Instagram of shadow banning their content and removing their hashtags from the platform
  • Let Them Live told The Daily Caller News Foundation that pro-choice activists likely pushed Instagram into shadow banning the group 
  • Let Them Live is planning a rally in June at Instagram’s headquarters to protest what they believe is the company’s decision to suppress their content 

A pro-life group believes pro-choice activists likely poked and prodded Instagram into suppressing and removing the group’s content and hashtags from the platform’s most popular feature.

Let Them Live’s Instagram’s posts stopped appearing on numerous hashtags starting on April 18, the group claimed in a May 15 press statement posted to its Instagram page. The group, which has 15,000 Instagram followers, brought its case directly to the company on April 25 as the group’s engagement rate sagged. Instagram never responded, according to the group’s executive director, Nathan Berning.

The group’s content was removed from hashtags and Instagram’s Explore, a feature on the platform displaying the most-liked content at the time of a person’s visit. Content on the feature is different for each Instagram user and comprises posts liked by people, posts from accounts similar to those a person follows, and posts with high engagement. Groups often use to help their content go viral.

Berning speculates that pro-choice activists played a role. “We really do believe that that is what is happening,” Berning told The Daily Caller News Foundation, referring to what he believes is an activist-let attempt to suppress Let Them Live’s content. Berning claims his group leveraged social media marketing practices to take over hashtags Planned Parenthood used to promote its material.

Some of the most influential tags were suppressed, including #ProLife#ProChoice, and #DefundPP, among several others, Berning and his wife, Emily, the group’s president, claimed. They included a spreadsheet in their press statement that contains data they argue support their contention.

Screencap of spreadsheet from Let Them Live press release claiming Instagram shadow bans their content (Screencap)

The spreadsheet begins on March 17 and concludes on May 15. Nathan said researchers flagged 20 times when Instagram supposedly throttled their content. Nathan claimed Let Them Live’s Instagram views dropped by roughly 80 percent during this period of time. Emily mirrored Nathan’s position, noting that they have not discovered any evidence linking Planned Parenthood to the problem.

“What we think is happening is that hundreds of spam reports are being filed by pro-abort activists, particularly on our posts that directly attack PP. But it’s unlikely that Planned Parenthood is involved in the shadow ban itself,” she told TheDNCF, effectively dismissing speculation that Planned Parenthood is trying to hurt the group. Let Them Live is holding a rally in June at Instagram’s headquarters.

Emily added: “The shadow ban started on May 11th and has continued since then. As of now, none of our posts appear in Explore or on any hashtags.” The term shadow banning happens when a person’s social media posts are rendered essentially invisible to most everyone but the person themselves.

“Shadow banning is when you are algorithmically being kind of shut down, and that often has to do with, particularly, the content that you are posting,” Monica Stephens, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo who studies social media, told The New York Times in July 2018. “Maybe it doesn’t violate the terms of service, but they make it so other people can’t see that content.”

Stephens’ comment came after Vice News reported in 2018 that Twitter was shadow banning conservatives. Many tech experts said Vice’s story was based on a misunderstanding of the concept of the term. The report claimed Twitter was shadow banning because their accounts “no longer appear in the auto-populated drop-down search box.” Twitter, whose also been accused in the past of throttling pro-life activists, said the search box issue was an error that had since been fixed.

It’s virtually impossible for a person to determine if Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter are shadow banning their content. Much of social media engagement is factor-dependent, meaning how well a person’s social media content does depends on a numbers of factors, including what people are talking about at any given time and their ability to market content. Detecting this tactic is difficult, AI researchers say.

Instagram has not yet returned TheDCNF’s request for comment about the nature of Let Them Live’s claims.

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