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DoubleBlind’s Guide to Instagram Censorship on Psychedelics

Tips and tricks for avoiding censorship—and what to do if your account gets flagged

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DoubleBlind Mag is devoted to fair, rigorous reporting by leading experts and journalists in the field of psychedelics. Read more about our editorial process and fact-checking here.

Dear Community,

If you’ve been following DoubleBlind for a while, you know that we’ve been up against a lot. PayPal shut down our account and took about $2000 in it, because they said we were violating their policies. We contacted them many times to tell them we were not selling drugs and that we are a magazine. Their customer service representatives would sound surprised, apologize, and then nothing happened. Eventually, we were told that we’d have to have an attorney send a letter to their “legal department” to get our money back. We gave up. We were also kicked off Stripe, but were reinstated after Tweeting at them and our community (thanks to you!) rallied behind us. 

The censorship and algorithm games we navigate on social media and Google are their whole own beasts. Our Facebook ads manager, TikTok posts, and YouTube videos have all been taken down, and, in December of 2020, following an algorithm update that Google experts referred to as “the medic update,” we, along with every other psychedelic media site we know, lost about half of our website traffic overnight. Our harm reduction articles, such as this incredibly well-reported piece on 2C-B by Michelle Janikian which used to rank number one Google for “2C-B,” got buried beneath short posts like this one on addiction sites that basically say “don’t do it.” 

Instagram has been one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as a media company. We’ve had posts taken down, we’ve lost our ability to go live at various points, we’ve been shadow banned (where our posts still go live, but aren’t populated in people’s feeds), and we’ve had our account taken down altogether without explanation or warning—twice. We’ve thought about just walking away from these platforms, but the reality is that: Our community lives on them and they’re important tools for spreading messages about our work. With that said, we’ve done our best to weather the Instagram storm and, along the way, we’ve picked up some tips and tricks. No one really knows what goes on inside of these companies so much of this is guess work, but it seems to have worked so far and we felt it was important to share with all of you, too. 

To meaningful work,

Shelby

P.s. Want to support our work? At DoubleBlind, we’ve vowed to never have a paywall over our articles and to offer scholarships to our education so people can always access the information they need to heal. This is made possible by our members, who also get perks like the print magazine and a private community. Join here

Instagram Censorship: Tips and Tricks

  1. If you talk about subjects that are often censored by IG, from the get-go, it’s good to have a backup account and to post the same content on it that you post on your normal account as often as possible. The goal is not to build a following on the backup account, but to simply have it ready and populated with content should your primary account get taken down
  1. If you have an account that talks about psychedelics, be mindful of not using words that are banned on IG. We try to figure out what words are banned by seeing if IG will let us use it as a hashtag. If they don’t, then we come up with an alternative spelling. Here is our current censored word list. We censor the caption copy, the words that are said out loud in videos, and the words that appear on images. We think, although we don’t know, that Instagram monitors all three:

Psychedelics

  • Censored spelling: P$ychedel*cs, P$ychedel!cs
  • Alternate words: Entheogens, plant medicines, fungi medicines, sacred medicines

MDMA

  • Censored spelling:  MDM@
  • Alternate words: Molly

Ketamine

  • Censored spelling:  Ket@m*ne, Ketam*ne, 
  • Alternate words:  K, ket

Psilocybin / Shrooms

  • Censored spelling: P$ilocyb*n, P$ilocyb!n, Shr0oms
  • Alternate words: Psilo, magic mushies, 🍄

LSD

  • Censored spelling: L$D
  • Alternate words: Acid, lucy

Microdose

  • Censored spelling: Micr0dos3, M!cr0dose

Words Currently Presumed to be Safe:

  • Psychedelic (singular)
  • Ayahuasca
  • Iboga
  • Psilocybe
  1. Before your account is taken down, you will likely get an indication that you are on IG’s radar because:
    • You will be shadow-banned, usually temporarily (essentially means that you can still post content, but IG will not be showing it to your followers and/ or will not be populating it in feeds where people can discover you). IG doesn’t tell you if you’re shadow-banned so the only way to figure it out is if you notice your engagement is way down and/ or you notice that your IG handle cannot easily be found using the search function from another account. Typically, IG will autopopulate to help you find accounts. So, for example, if your account is “shroomzareawesome,” by the time you’ve typed in “shroomz” or “shroomzare” then IG will autopopulate the rest. If you are shadowbanned, however, you will have to type in the entire name in order to find the account. 
    • You will be banned from going live on IG
    • One or more posts will be taken down for “violating Instagram’s acceptable use policy”
  2. If any of these things happen to you:
    • Screenshot it immediately as it will disappear and keep it in a folder. Try to pick up on trends as to what gets you flagged and don’t do it again. If you’re able to connect with someone who works at Facebook/ Instagram, you can also send all of this to them when you make a case for why you should get your account back, but, typically, the only way to be in touch with Instagram is by reporting something in the Instagram app. Find this by going to settings and privacy → help → report a problem. Frustratingly, you probably won’t hear back and if something changes with your account (i.e. it’s taken down and then you get it back), you’ll be notified by a bot via email. You may be able to get in touch with a person if you run paid ads through Facebook and Instagram, as typically once you exceed a certain amount of spending, Meta assigns you an “account manager.” 
    • Don’t try and fight posts being taken down/ get them reviewed
    • Stay off IG completely for at least 48 hours, but ideally a few days or more if you can afford to. Do not reply to DMs or even open your app.
    • When you start posting again, post with less frequency for a little while just to see if IG keeps flagging you. If they don’t, you can up your cadence again but be careful about what you post. If they flag you again, go off the app again for longer. 
  3. If your account gets taken down Immediately contest it by saying you have reviewed their acceptable use policy and have not violated it. If you are a legally registered business (if you’re not and can be, consider registering), tell them that and provide them with your Tax ID number. Tell them about your business and try to paint it in the most legitimate light possible, emphasizing that you do not engage in nor have you ever engaged in illegal activity (if that’s true). Here is a template:
    • [NAME OF YOUR BUSINESS] is a legal entity in [LOCATION, I.E. CALIFORNIA] and we rely on the consistency and fairness of your platform. Closure to our customer base inhibits our business unjustly. From Instagram’s community guidelines: “Instagram is not a place to support or praise terrorism, organized crime, or hate groups. Offering sexual services, buying or selling firearms, alcohol, and tobacco products between private individuals, and buying or selling illegal or prescription drugs (even if legal in your region) are also not allowed.”
    • We agree completely and have always abided by these guidelines. Anything we share is purely to inform with the intent to reduce potential harm. We do not and have never sold or intended to sell any illegal substances. Thank you kindly for your continued effort in regulating this vital marketing tool and ensuring the quality and lawfulness of the content. If you need any more information or proof, don’t hesitate to contact us.
  4. Start a campaign across all of your platforms (newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, your backup IG account) where you ask people to “report an issue” through their IG and then to say something like “I am looking for [name of the account] and can’t find it! Something must be wrong.” Create clear step-by-step instructions for your followers on how they can do this as an IG story with screenshots and arrows and direct them there. You can even provide a sample message for them to send. Make it as easy as possible for people, and ask friends in your community with big followings to submit the message to IG, as well. Make sure that your community does not say anything in these messages that implies you are doing illegal work such as “Psychedelics have changed my life and this account has helped me with that.” 
  5. Send messages to IG through your backup account as frequently as possible telling them your account was disabled in error. IG will only let you email/ contest through your primary account once, but you should continue to contest over and over again through your backup account. Be relentless! People have gotten their accounts back six months after takedown.
DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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