Dear Instagram, Horror is Healthy.
It came to our attention last week that something unfortunate is happening on social media. Instagram in particular (but Facebook, Tumblr, and YouTube as well) has begun censoring posts with the hashtag #horror. When you search for #horror you’re immediately greeted with a message asking if you’re okay and offering links in case you need some kind of emotional or psychological help. If you proceed to search for #horror anyway, you’re only allowed to view the Top Rated posts under the hashtag. Clicking on the option for Recent Posts takes you to a screen letting you know that, in order to protect users from material that could be potentially harmful, posts under the hashtag are being blocked and again gives users an option to seek professional help.
And if #horror was among several other such tags to be similarly censored in the name of public health and security, it might just be a little less hurtful. Unfortunately, there are far too many searches that should be meeting with this same warning and it’s just another symptom of the ongoing culture war against horror as both an art and a community of creators and fans.
When some of us here at 52 Weeks of Horror began noticing this, we started searching out a host of other words and hashtags that, theoretically should come with the same kind of censors and restrictions that #horror has met with. During one of my searches under the hashtag #violence not only did I meet with no offers to seek professional help or warnings that content was being restricted but the first image that appeared was video from another country showing the graphic death and aftermath of a man’s corpse after meeting with some unfortunate accident. It was real, visceral, and clearly posted by someone for laughs as the comments description attached to it included laughing emojis. I promptly reported the video but I have little doubt it is still up and available.
There are a host of problems with this situation, not the least of which being the artistic nature of horror as a genre. Exploring our fears and the things that bring us fear is evolutionary. Our desire to either flee from or confront our fears is hardwired into our brains from birth and the advancement of human civilization and technology has come from the conquest of our fears. We were afraid of the darkness and the beasts that stalked us in the night. We embraced fire and the warmth and protection is offered in order to combat these monsters. We fear death and illness. Medical studies are devoted to extending and bettering human life. The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear and how we address those fears are at the core of the human experience. Horror allows us a safe and imaginative way to explore this part of ourselves and the unnecessary censorship of the genre is alarming.
Even in the film industry where so much of modern horror has been explored there is a constant fight for the legitimacy of the genre. In a world of “reality TV” and “true story” blockbusters based on total fabrications of events, horror remains the illegitimate child of the film industry. Recently Jordan Peele had to publicly address a review calling his latest film Us a “thriller” by stating very plainly that the film he created was a horror movie. Simply put, no one outside of the horror community wants to acknowledge horror as an art and an important part of the human condition despite the fact that it always has been. Telling ghost stories around the fire is one of the oldest forms of entertainment and historical literature and mythology are full of terrifying tales of monsters and madmen but it seems that trying to explore what it means to be human through the understanding of what scares us remains a taboo.
Instagram --and it’s parent company Facebook-- have had a longstanding war against the appearance of the female body on their platforms. A woman’s bare breast is cause for account suspension or deletion while calling for the death of an entire ethnic group and other forms of hate speech remains perfectly acceptable. Recently the company has come under fire for not moving fast enough to remove video of the tragic mass murder in New Zealand as it was live streamed to the world. A company that seemingly instantly drops the ban hammer on anyone posting sexually suggestive content with algorithms designed to sniff out and block female nudity couldn’t move with such lightning pace to silence the message of hate and naked aggression of a terrorist.
I reached out to Instagram on Friday asking for comment on the #horror issue. After reading their community guidelines (which I suggest you all take a moment to do) I found nothing to suggest to me that the #horror tag offered any real danger or suggestion of harm to anyone. Rather it seems that terms like #radicalism, #gunviolence, #murder, and others would be more pressing issues than singling out an entire community of independent artists and business owners. At the time of this article, I have yet to receive a response from the company.
Because of the exceptionally graphic nature of the image I found and notified Instagram about, I will not be sharing it with you.
So how do we, the horror community, fix this problem?
The first answer would be to educate. Always. Horror is healthy (#horrorishealthy), a hashtag suggestion given to us recently that we have adopted. Explaining to people that there is more to the genre that gore saturated killing sprees and CGI monsters is a great way to begin the conversation. Seeing people who actually understand horror taking the helm at studios, publishing houses, and tech companies would go a long way in our fight to end the cultural backlash against us. The most effective, however, is going to be the one no one will do in any substantial way: abandoning Instagram and its affiliates. The one thing these and other corporations value more than anything is their money and the way they earn it is through targeted advertising and the wholesale dismissal of customer privacy. By moving away from these particular platforms in favor of rivals could effectively harm their profit margins and, theoretically, allow for dialogue and change. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to happen.
Social media has given many of us careers and connections that only a decade ago would have been impossible for most. I know that without the influence of Instagram I would never have become a part of 52 Weeks of Horror and my writing career would have continued to stagnate without the ability to easily and affordably promote myself and my work. These networks have allowed people like me a chance to step outside of the traditional sphere of power and influence necessary for artists to gain recognition. Unfortunately, our reliance and addiction to these new networks as both creators and consumers has given them an unhealthy amount of power over our art and our community to the point where #horror and similarly innocuous tags are now forbidden.
Join us and other horror outlets, creators, and fans in telling Instagram, and the world, that #horrorishealthy.
Scaremakers, tell us in the comments, on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube exactly how horror has helped you in your life. We want to know but, more importantly, we want the world to know that horror is healthy, relevant, and necessary.
Meanwhile, find out exactly who is being effected by this online horror embargo.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.