Industry News

Instagram Changes Nudity Policy After Model Points Out Bias

October 29, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

© Sophia Evans/The Observer

Model Nyome Nicholas-Williams (center) with photographer Alexandra Cameron (left) and campaigner Gina Martin (right) outside Facebook’s London headquarters. "@ginamartin @alex_cameron and I...we changed an Instagram policy," Nicholas Williams wrote on her Instagram account this week. "Look what happens when three women set out to change the world! We have put our heart and souls into this campaign and to see it come to fruition is insane!"

Instagram changed its nudity policy yesterday after Black, plus-size model Nyome Nicholas-Williams led a viral protest that pointed out physical and racial biases inherent in the platform’s decency standards.

In June of this year, Nicholas-Williams told the Observer how photos from her “confidence shoot” with photographer Alexandra Cameron were repeatedly deleted and taken down on Instagram, warning them that their accounts could be shut down. One image in particular at the root of the dispute was that of Nicholas-Williams (known on her account as @CurvyNyome) with her arms folded across her breasts (below). Fans protested and posted pictures of the model under the hashtag #IWantToSeeNyome.

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portrait of Nyome Nicholas-Williams, who led a campaign to point out Instagram's racial and physical biases,

“Millions of pictures of very naked skinny white women can be found on Instagram every day,” Nicholas-Williams said at the time to The Observer. “But a fat Black woman celebrating her body is banned? It was shocking to me. I feel like I’m being silenced.”

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Nicholas-WIlliams accused Instagram of racial bias and fat-shaming in controversy
Nyome Nicholas-Williams influenced a policy change at Instagram when her photos (similar to this one) were repeatedly removed and flagged as a violation. (Photo Source: Instagram)

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri later made a statement saying that the company was addressing the concerns about “whether we suppress Black voices and whether our products and policies treat everyone equally” and that “addressing the feedback we get has always been an integral part of how we work, and has helped us build a better Instagram for everyone.”

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In July, Business Insider reported that Instagram created an internal team to examine racial bias on its platform after it received complaints from underrepresented groups that they were being unfairly targeted by its moderation policies.

Instagram Vice President of Product Vishal Shah promised to investigate the platform’s racist algorithms: “The racial justice movement is a moment of real significance for our company,” he said at the time. “Any bias in our systems and policies run counter to providing a platform for everyone to express themselves. While we’re always working to create a more equitable experience, we are setting up additional efforts to continue this progress.”

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But according to Nicholas-Williams, what Instagram was saying publicly at the time did not align with what was actually happening on the platform. And while news reports indicated that Instagram denied Nicholas-Williams had been racially discriminated against, the social media platform recently confirmed that its “former policy on ‘boob squeezing'” had been inappropriately applied to her images, causing her photos to be removed.

“Hearing her feedback helped us understand where this policy was falling short and how we could refine it,” an Instagram representative told Business Insider. “With the new update, we’ll allow content where someone is simply hugging, cupping or holding their breasts. And, if there’s any doubt, we’ll ask that reviewers allow the content to stay up.

“We do have to draw the line somewhere so when people squeeze their breasts in a grabbing motion with bent fingers or if there is a clear change in the shape of the breasts, that content will still break our rules,” the representative continued. “This policy will apply across Instagram and Facebook.”

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As Nicholas-Williams told The Observer earlier this week: “This is a huge first step, and I am glad a dialogue has now been opened. I want to ensure that I am respected and allowed to use spaces like Instagram, as many other creators do, without the worry of being censored and silenced.”

On Instagram, she wrote, “Hopefully this policy change will bring an end to the censorship of fat Black bodies,” while also adding that Instagram still needs to do more. “There is still a huge racial imbalance in the algorithm that still exists as white bodies are promoted and don’t have to worry about censorship of their posts but Black bodies still have to justify presence on the platform.” 

You can read Nicholas-Williams’ full statement here.