There’s a new uprising in town, and its hashtag is #longhairedboyrevolution. Parents are absolutely furious that Instagram has been flagging and deleting photographs of long-haired, shirtless boys — because its algorithms are mistaking them for girls.
Tori Spooner is a Florida mom whose son, Parker, 4, loves his long hair and “never wears a shirt” because the family practically lives at the beach. She told BuzzFeed News that a shirtless picture of Parker was first flagged on Facebook — which, in case you didn’t know, owns Instagram.
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“[Facebook] sent it and said it was sexual and we weren’t allowed to have it. It was pretty much just a warning,” she told the outlet. “Then the second time it happened… [Facebook] banned me for a couple of days.”
Soon after that, her Instagram feed was flagged and eventually, her entire account deleted by the app, although it’s back online now.
Here’s Parker with Spooner’s call to other parents to mobilize against the app and its algorithms that shame topless, long-haired boys:
Many parents responded with photos of their own long-haired boys, protesting the profiling:
“…So it’s okay for accounts to post completely nude adults, some even simulating sex acts as long as the tiniest bit is blurred or covered creatively. But I’m not allowed to share photos of my SON playing outside on a warm day with his shirt off showing his MALE nipples?….” wrote @MotherOfDragonsandElephants on Instagram.
“I will always stand up for you my Son,” wrote Clinton Lane on his Instagram feed. “It’s gotten insane these last couple of months. Friends with 300k+ followers getting their accounts deleted due to their little boys with long hair on the beach being mistaken for topless little girls… @instagram, get your shit together….”
While many parents are furious at the profiling of their children, others are arguing that this is not a gender-based issue — it’s about protecting children from online pedophiles.
Facebook and Instagram have fairly clear regulations when it comes to nude photos: no genitals, no children older than a toddler shown without clothing, no nipples showing on a female older than a toddler.
The company responded to Buzzfeed and acknowledged that it had erred in deleting Tori Spooner’s account: “This post was taken down in error and we are sorry for the mistake. We err on the side of protecting children and for safety reasons we remove some images that show nude or partially nude children,” a rep explained. “Even when this content is shared with good intentions, it could be used by others in unanticipated ways.”
The debate rages on in the news and on Twitter, whether or not Facebook and Instagram should be meddling in people’s posts of their children:
— Lynn Smith (@LynnSmithTV) September 29, 2019
We can see both sides of the coin here — but surely there’s a better way to manage online content and keep our kids safe than having bots and algorithms sexualizing and gendering our children.