Instagram Has a Problem With the Word ‘Dyke’
Genderfluid users say the platform’s moderation system is discriminating against them
Recently, I tried to leave what I thought was a fairly innocuous comment on my girlfriend’s Instagram. It was a photo I had taken of her during San Francisco Pride, blocks away from the Dyke March, an annual event for queer women.
My girlfriend, Amy Osiason, works as an androgynous model, and the photo was of her pointing to a billboard with her face on it — part of a Pride campaign for Lyft. The moment seemed extra prideful, so I commented, “Also this was on Dyke Day!” But I was surprised when Instagram suggested I censor myself. A message popped up that read, “Are you sure you want to post this?” along with an “undo” option. I went ahead and posted, then got another message saying, “We’re asking people to rethink comments that seem similar to others that have been reported. If we made a mistake, let us know.”
Instagram has a history of censoring the word “dyke.” Early last year, the lesbian journalist Trish Bendix wrote about how Instagram was deleting posts of Zoe Leonard’s poem I Want a Dyke for President which was shared widely leading up to and after President Donald Trump’s 2016 election. This despite the fact that the United States Patent and Trademark Office officially declared dyke to be a term associated with gay pride in 2005, after the San Francisco-based motorcycle contingency “Dykes on Bikes” fought a legal battle to trademark their name. (The decision was reinforced in 2007, when a male lawyer sued the Trademark Office on the grounds that the word dyke is offensive to men.)
More than 10 years later, the word dyke seems to be censored more than ever on a platform that many queer women use to build community. And that might be because Instagram’s new policies too easily result in censorship.
It didn’t take long to figure out that I’d been asked not to comment with the word because of an A.I.-driven, anti-bullying feature introduced on Instagram in July. Stephanie Otway, Instagram’s brand communications manager, told OneZero the A.I. behind this feature is not yet sophisticated enough to “recognize when someone is using a reclaimed slur. For now, the decision we made as a company is to just…