When an Algorithm Determines Your Success

    Navigating Instagram Censorship in 2021

    “Every time I tell someone I make tech-based smart-locking furniture, the follow-up question is usually something along the lines of, ‘Like...for guns and alcohol?’ When I respond with, ‘Nope, weed,’ I’m usually met with a quizzical look and asked why I’d limit my customer base.”

    This quote by Forti Goods founder, Sharon Kevil, perfectly explains why we’re currently rebranding Forti Goods. We want to speak to a larger audience and help more people. Because although our furniture was originally designed with plant medicine in mind, realistically, it can safely store anything you want—plant and prescription medicine, firearms and ammo, personal pleasure devices, expensive makeup from your ever-curious 6-year-old, whatever you want.

    There is another benefit to our rebrand, though. One that we’re finding is an issue that unfortunately affects more than just the cannabis industry and may continue to be a problem as we expand into the pharmaceutical, firearm, and sex markets—Instagram censorship.

    Instagram Censorship in 2021

    On July 20, Instagram rolled out a new setting on their app that allows you to limit how much “sensitive content” you want to see on your Explore page. It automatically defaults to showing you limited content, requiring you to physically change the setting if you want to see “more photos and videos that could be upsetting or offensive.” (Here’s how to do that.)

    The problem is, Instagram has a broad definition of “photos and videos that could be upsetting or offensive” and seems to randomly include content from legitimate sources and industries, even if that content is educational, not sales-based, and doesn’t fall under any of the no-no’s listed in their Community Guidelines.

    From body-shaming and silencing people who aren’t skinny and white to muting sex-positive brands and cannabis industry news sources, Instagram’s algorithm continues to prove overtly biased. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like turning off their new sensitivity filter is making a bit of difference for those accounts who are simply trying to educate, inform, and expand. Accounts like ours.

    The Dreaded Instagram Shadowban 

    Even as we’ve pivoted our focus from plant medicine to other industries, Forti Goods is currently locked into an Instagram muzzle, unable to like other profiles or comment on other accounts’ posts. We see this pop up on the daily when trying to post or engage with other users and accounts:

    Forti Goods Instagram account with try again later message

    Mind you, we’re talking about furniture here. Not once have we ever inferred or offered the sale of psychoactive flower or its derivatives, nor have we violated any of the other guidelines in relation to firearms, alcohol, sex, or anything else.

    Our post reach and engagement have taken a dramatic downturn too, leading us to believe we’re currently facing one of Instagram’s dirtiest moves—the shadowban.

    Instagram’s shadowban is more or less the other side of that sensitivity filter. Our current reach (or lack thereof) implies we’re not showing up on the Explore page of non-followers. But it goes further than that. Our recent analytics indicate our posts aren’t showing up in the newsfeeds of our current followers, and anyone organically searching “Forti Goods” on Instagram might not be able to find our account.


    Instagram's censorship practices affect small and emerging businesses

    Why is this shadowban such a dirty move on Instagram’s part? Because they don’t tell you if or when your account is under a shadowban, and more importantly, they don’t tell you why. 

    We reached out to several accounts related to plant medicine, including DoubleBlind Magazine, a psychedelics education page, and Alice Moon, a cannabis social media & PR professional, and at some point they’ve all experienced shadowbanning, disabling or deletion of accounts, deletion of posts, or some combination of the three. In none of these instances did anyone get a reason from Instagram for the initial censorship. And, if they were lucky enough to get their posts or accounts put back up (not all were), they didn’t get a reason for that either. Nobody was ever able to get in touch with Instagram directly. (It should be noted that Instagram’s Community Guidelines mention drugs once—which is the closest category plant medicine could fall into—and only in relation to buying/selling them online. None of these accounts have ever been guilty of breaking that guideline or any others as they’re currently defined.)

    Building a Business on Social Media

    Instagram’s censorship may have been originally developed to filter out hate, illegal activity, and “sensitive content,” but as we’ve seen lately, there’s a lot more in its crosshairs. And if its sites are set on you, it can result in more than an inconvenience. It can cost you your livelihood.

    When your business’s success is measured in likes, comments, and shares, getting your content in front of as many people as possible is necessary to survive. Unfortunately, with no proper guidelines from the platform, no warning when you’ve supposedly done something “wrong,” and seemingly no way to connect with an actual person at Instagram, you’re at the mercy of an algorithm that it appears even Instagram doesn’t fully understand. (Many of the accounts we spoke to said if they received any communication from Instagram, it was a simple email that said their account or post was deleted “by mistake” with no further explanation. How reassuring.)

    As we continue to navigate our rebrand and focus on a broader market instead of plant medicine specifically, we’re hopeful Instagram will take us off its blacklist and allow us to speak to our audience again. We will continue to follow the guidelines they put forward, even if that doesn’t seem to make much difference.

    In the meantime, we encourage you to look further into that sensitive content filter Instagram imposed on your account and pay attention to your favorite brands who might be struggling with Instagram censorship simply because they’re unafraid to educate on “taboo” subjects. DoubleBlind Magazine was able to get their account back up and running this past May after their community spoke up across Twitter and Instagram to say that the disabling of DB’s account was a mistake.

    So there’s the silver lining. Even if it’s impossible to get in touch with anyone at Instagram after they’ve randomly decided to turn your business upside down, if your community can make enough noise, they just might listen.

    In the hopes that we have the same luck as DoubleBlind, please follow us on Instagram and like and/or comment on one of our posts. Here’s hoping every bit of engagement helps Instagram learn that smart-locking furniture and interior design tips do not qualify as “sensitive content”!