Instagram apologises for removing images of Black British model

by Rachel Savage | @rachelmsavage | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 11 September 2020 15:05 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: The Instagram application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White

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Nyome Nicholas-Williams won the backing of high-profile campaigners after images of her covering her breasts with her arms were repeatedly removed by Instagram

By Rachel Savage

LONDON, Sept 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Instagram has apologised to a Black British plus-size model after she said its repeated removal of images showing her covering her breasts with her arms betrayed "racial biases" in its algorithm.

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The last three months have been exhausting. Not only did a well-known illustrator trace a professional photo of me, put my body on her merchandise and sell it, without my consent or any offer of compensation - my images have also been under attack by Instagram. The #IWantToSeeNyome campaign, started by myself, @ginamartin and @alex_cameron, has really snowballed and I couldn’t be more grateful, HOWEVER, it shouldn’t have taken all of this to get a response from Instagram about why they continue to censor the bodies of black, plus-size women. Our powerful, artistic images are still being flagged for moderation and removed, despite there being highly provocative images still remaining on the feeds of slim white models. Off the back of our campaign, Instagram agreed to review its semi nudity policy, but we have since not seen any further action. As a result, we have penned an open letter to @Instagram and the corporations CEO, @Mosseri, which has been signed by some INCREDIBLE humans and is officially out today (see tags for signees). Instagram must take responsibility for its internalised racial bias. Instagram must make its semi nudity policy OFFICIAL. Only then will we have been truly heard and listened to. Please help us by sharing the open letter, which is in my stories and most recent story highlight, far and wide. Please help us to show that we cannot be silenced. With love, Nyome x

A post shared by Nyome Nicholas - Williams (@curvynyome) on

Nyome Nicholas-Williams won the backing of high-profile campaigners including the actress Jameela Jamil and feminist activist Gina Martin for her campaign to have the images of her reinstated.

In an open letter to the company posted on her Instagram, @curvynyome on Thursday, she said the images were still being removed from the platform weeks after she received assurances the issue would be resolved.

Instagram apologised and said both its algorithm and human moderators had wrongly identified the images with breast-squeezing, which the platform bans because of its association with pornography.

It said it would update its policies to ensure that people with different body types were not treated unfairly.

"If you are white, rich, and conventionally sexually attractive, it seems you can post as you wish and what you wish," said Nicholas-Williams in her letter, signed by 19 people including the transgender model Munroe Bergdorf.

"But if you are part of a marginalised group you are subject to the results of a biased algorithm."

Recent concerns over racial bias in algorithms range from facial recognition misidentifying non-white people to students at schools with past poor performance and high proportions of ethnic minorities having exam results downgraded.

The model's campaign, under the hashtag #IWantToSeeNyome, comes amid growing pressure on companies to address alleged racist biases in their technologies in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests.

She said slimmer, white celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Emily Ratajkowsji, posted photos that showed more of their bodies and had not had them removed.

A spokeswoman for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it was updating its policies.

"We are committed to addressing any inequity on our platforms," Tara Hopkins, head of Instagram public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in a statement.

"We expect to update Instagram and Facebook's shared breast squeezing and covering policies next month, to make sure different body types aren't treated unfairly."

Gina Martin, who successfully campaigned for "upskirting" - covertly taking intimate photos of someone without their consent - to be criminalised in Britain, said Black women's concerns over censorship must be heard.

"They are often hyper-sexualised far, far more than white women often are," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It's basically anti-racism conversations that need to be happening."

Related stories:

Global exam grading algorithm under fire for suspected bias

U.S. protests fuel calls for ban on racially biased facial recognition tools

First-time young black women protesters say they are 'done being silent'

(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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