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Instagram Users Plan Lynchings At LGBT Pride In India | 5 Ways To Make Instagram Safer

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TW: Homophobia, Transphobia, mentions of homophobic and transphobic slurs, rape, lynching

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Today, I had an opportunity to meet Instagram’s Public Policy & Community Outreach Manager as part of Queer Muslim Project‘s Digital Pride Festival 2.0. On behalf of Yes, We Exist, an LGBTQIA+ digital advocacy platform, 5 recommendations have been made to make Instagram safer for the LGBTQIA+ community in India. They are as follows:

1. The Use Of Slurs In South-Asian Languages

While the use of English-language slurs such as ‘faggot‘, ‘fag‘, ‘tranny‘ used to attack LGBTQIA+ persons is banned on Instagram, content is abundant on Instagram that uses South Asian-language words such as ‘Chakka‘, ‘Meetha‘, ‘Gandu‘, etc. in homophobic/transphobic ways. Reporting such content does not result in content takedowns.

Suggestion: Consult with multiple LGBTQIA+ organizations across South Asia’s lengths and breadths to identify words used for anti-LGBTQIA+ Hate Speech and disallow such content on the platform. Examples:

  1. This audio has been used to make over 60,000 reels with lakhs of views. It contains the slurs ‘Chakka‘ and ‘Gandu‘ and talks about raping a transgender person on a railway station. I reported this audio but it was not removed.
  2. This audio has been used to make over 10,000 reels with crores of views. It contains the homophobic slur ‘Meetha‘. I reported this audio but it was not removed.

2. Treat Criticism Of LGBTQIA+ Identities As Hate Speech

In the last couple of years, there has been a significant rise in the number of  LGBTQIA+ persons in India petitioning the courts and raising their voices for equal rights and protections. This has led to a rise in counter speech which is most hateful in nature. Although Instagram policies treat sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics and disallow attacks against individuals based on these characteristics, they, unfortunately, allow criticism of concepts and treat homosexuality and the transgender identity as concepts. For example, saying “Homosexuality is a disease“, “Transgenderism is unnatural“, etc. is allowed on the platform.

Suggestion: Stop treating LGBTQIA+ identities as concepts and treat criticism of  LGBTQIA+ identities as Hate Speech against the LGBTQIA+ community. Saying “Homosexuality is a disease” is not a criticism of some abstract concept but a direct attack on people who are born homosexual. LGBTQIA+ identities are not concepts but intrinsic characteristics of LGBTQIA+ persons. Saying “Bisexuality is disgusting” is the same as saying “Bisexual people are disgusting” and is as violating as saying “Whites are disgusting” (for example), and should be treated as Hate Speech.

Example: This post by an account with over 74,000 followers claims to present a “Hindu view of Homosexuality” and in the process deems homosexuality as “degenerative propaganda“, “abnormal” and worthy of punishment. Despite several reports, this post remains on Instagram and has over 6,600 likes.

3. Reporting Mechanism For Coordinated Homophobic Attacks

A week ago, Yes, We Exist hosted a Pride event on Instagram Live. As soon as we went to live, our comments were flooded with Hate Speech from over 30 users who planned a coordinated attack. Our comments feature is restricted to our followers only, these attackers bypassed this restriction by following us to comment. There was no option for the Live host to report these comments and block these accounts during the Live; the only option was to hide the Live from the attackers after they had posted a hateful comment.

After the Live video ended and was published, there was no way for us to view the comments posted during the Live to take action against the attackers. Fortunately, one of the audience members had taken screenshots of the attackers’ comments, due to which we were able to find them and block them and file a Cyber Crime complaint against them. Reporting these accounts to Instagram was futile as their comments on the Live video had disappeared and there was no way for Instagram to identify the violation and action the accounts.

Suggestion: Please create a feature to report comments and block accounts from Live video comments. Please create a reporting mechanism to report batches of accounts involved in coordinated harassment with an option for those attacked to provide additional context to Instagram.

Example: Here are some of the accounts involved in the coordinated attack that I experienced

4. Why Does Instagram Allow Repeat Offenders To Create New Accounts After The Old Ones Are Deleted

Usually, it takes coordinated reporting on a mass scale or direct contact with an Instagram employee to take down homophobic/transphobic accounts with a large following on Instagram. After the successful removal of such accounts, the abusers easily get back with a new account and continue spewing hate speech and harassing LGBTQIA+ users. As much as it is the responsibility of users to report abuse, the larger responsibility to prevent abuse and disallow recidivist users lies with Instagram.

Suggestion: Create policies and systems to completely disallow repeat violators from entering back onto Instagram. Trump is not the only abusive user. There are many more.

Example: a recidivist abuser named Vedprakash Pandey who calls himself ‘Guy With The Board’ has had 2 Instagram accounts deleted, one with over 19,000 followers and another with over 4,500 followers. He harassed other queer creators through his posts. He blocked their accounts so that they cannot see and report his content. On Instagram, he has even discussed lynching a popular queer creator at a Pride March. Now he is back again with two new accounts, growing his followership and spewing hatred.

  1. https://www.instagram.com/guywiththe.board
  2. https://www.instagram.com/guy.withtheboardVed

5. Loopholes Surrounding Hate Speech

Abusers know that Instagram policies allow Hate Speech if it is self-referential in nature. Abusers add indicators like the Rainbow emoji, Pride Flag emoji, hashtags related to the LGBTQIA+ community, pronouns, etc. in their bio to give a false impression that they are LGBTQIA+. They do the same in their captions while uploading homophobic/transphobic content to bypass Instagram’s content moderation mechanisms. Abusers also use the term “LG TV” instead of “LGBT” in their hateful comments to bypass Instagram policies.

Suggestion: Have frequent consultations with the LGBTQIA+ community to gather intelligence that will help Instagram improve its anti-abuse systems. Instead of limiting these consultations with a few handpicked organizations, invest in creating more open channels for community members to pass feedback directly. Current reporting mechanisms and current civic consultation efforts are clearly not enough, given the excessive abuse on the platform and the large scope for region-specific policy improvement.

We hope that Instagram finds these suggestions valuable and decides to implement them on a priority basis so that LGBTQIA+ users can express themselves using Instagram fearlessly.

If you have additional suggestions, share them in the comments below.

You can follow Yes, We Exist on Facebook and Instagram.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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