LOS ANGELES — It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours for performer and Adult Performers Actors Guild (APAG) President Alana Evans on Instagram.
Following harassing comments left on one of her posts, and an implicit threat against XBIZ, the resulting investigation ended up with Evans’ account deleted early this morning; reports from Evans and XBIZ about the threatening content did not initially result in a banning of the user making the comments.
That has since changed, with the user having been removed from the platform and Evans’ account restored, including approximately 60,000 of her followers that had been deleted.
Instagram also issued an official apology to Evans.
“In the course of this investigation, we mistakenly disabled Alana’s Instagram account,” said Instagram Communications Officer Stephanie Otway in a statement to XBIZ. “We sincerely apologise to Alana for this error, and we’ve taken steps to protect her account from future mistakes like this.”
The sequence of events began yesterday, when a user named “tompowell397” made several harassing comments on posts from Evans: for example, that she deserved to be in prison for “prostitution trafficking.” The user also threatened XBIZ with a comment saying “XBIZ will also die.”
It should be noted that, aside from threats, Instagram’s own Community Guidelines state that “comments that target private individuals to degrade or shame them” are removed.
When Evans initially reported the harrassing comments to Instagram, she received the following response: “We’ve reviewed tompowell397’s account and found that it doesn’t go against our Community Guidelines.”
XBIZ received the same response when the same user was reported.
Then, this morning at approximately 1 a.m., Evans’ account was deactivated by Instagram. The account header was still viewable, but all of her pictures were gone, she was unable to login and her follower number had fallen from 102,000 to 42,800.
A post from a Twitter user known as “OMID,” who had been uncovered in XBIZ as an anti-pornography and an anti-porn-performer zealot, quickly took credit for the removal of Evans’ account:
“Proud to claim that @alanaevansxxx ‘s IG account was deleted. She is one of the biggest supporters of Porn industry and is leader of @APAGUnion. This is a really big and Direct victory Vs. Pornography. Congratulations.”
It then showed several emojis of flexing biceps and clapping hands, and the hashtags #no_porn and #no_pornstar. It also included a screenshot of a message from Instagram saying the following:
“Thank you for reporting alanaevansxxx’s account. We’ve removed it from Instagram because it goes against our Community Guidelines.”
According to Instagram, Evans’ account was not actually in violation of any policies and was not removed as the result of any report. There is no evidence to contradict this; it is possible that OMID fabricated the message from Instagram thanking him for his report and telling him that it was the reason Evans’ account was removed.
At approximately the same time that Evans’ account was being reinstated, tompowell397 was deleted from Instagram.
“We looked into this account and accounts connected to it, and disabled them all for violating our policies,” said Otway. “We’re also taking steps to ensure the individual behind these accounts can’t return to Instagram.”
Otway also said that Instagram will conduct an internal investigation into their content moderation process, to find out where the mistakes were made that led to tompowell397 initially retaining his account when Evans lost hers.
“We’re looking into this internally to better understand why these comments weren’t removed when they were first reported,” said Otway. “They do violate [guidelines] and we’ve taken action on the accounts accordingly.”
There has been ongoing confusion for adult performers as to what constitutes a violation of the sexual content policies on Instagram that can result in content being removed or an account being deactivated.
Last fall, XBIZ and BBC reporter Thomas Fabbri broke the story that Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, had instituted what was coined the “eggplant emoji ban” — a ban on content that includes certain emojis with sexual connotations if used in conjunction with “indirect or implicit offer or request for nude imagery, sex partners and sex chats.”
In November, Fabbri spoke to both Evans and performer-activist Ginger Banks about the hundreds of sex workers who’ve had their accounts deleted for violating what they termed as vague community guidelines.
Banks, who has also been targeted by OMID, told Fabbri that “when you put time and effort into building an account with over 300,000 followers and it gets deleted, that makes you feel defeated.”
Today, Banks elaborated on that frustration, and the widespread belief among sex workers that they’re held to different rules than mainstream celebrities.
“We see Kim Kardashian posing completely nude, one of the biggest accounts on Instagram, and nothing is happening to that,” Banks told XBIZ. “So we rightly assume that those are what the rules are. But they’re definitely not. It’s a different standard.”
Evans said much the same to Fabbri in November.
“I should be able to model my Instagram account on Sharon Stone or any other verified profile, but the reality is that doing that would get me deleted,” she said. “They discriminate against us because they don’t like what we do for a living.”
And while Instagram did move quickly to reinstate Evans. and remove the account of her harasser, she pointed out that most people don’t have the resources to go through the press or appeal directly to an employee of the company when their account is deleted.
“I’m hoping, as this moves forward, that we can find a way to help when this happens to others,” she said. “I really appreciate [Instagram’s] help with my account and the issues behind it, but it always leads me back to the others. How can we turn this experience into betterment for our community as a whole?”
Banks agreed that she hopes the quick reaction signifies the start of a better relationship between sex workers and Instagram.
“I’m surprised to see that they reacted so fast,” she said. “[I] hope this becomes standard for the future.”
“We’re always working to improve here and minimize mistakes,” said Otway. “People can let us know if they believe their account has been disabled in error on our Help Center.”
She added that they’re hoping to make that process more streamlined.
“We’re working on bringing this functionality into the app to make it easier for people to appeal mistakenly disabled accounts,” she said.
Still, performers would like to see more clarity about what actually constitutes a violation of Instagram’s standards.
“If Instagram said, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do this, and you can’t do this,’ it would be easier to know what we can and can’t do,” said Banks. “They make up these vague things that end up causing a lot of us confusion, because we don’t know what the rules are.”
Evans would also like to see Instagram take more concrete steps to protect sex workers from discrimination on their platform.
“Instagram has all the ability in the world to protect us all, but it’s issues like these that remind us how their reporting system is weaponized against sex workers for simply existing,” she said. “These errors are made by humans, and can be repaired.”