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Dangerous Hashtags, Acceptable Homicide, and Dissecting the Soska Ban

Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc...) is totally fine with gruesome violence, misogyny, bigotry, and ideologies that promote violent and dangerous behavior. Just don't show a woman's nipples or share horror fiction related images or content because those almost universally violate the terms of use for the platforms.

We've covered the Instagram Horror Embargo ad nauseum but for those who haven't read the articles, listened to the podcasts, or paid any attention at all we'll recap it for you. Following the Christchurch, NZ massacre that was livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram, social media sites rewrote their terms of use to prohibit further violent content and crack down on anyone promoting harmful behavior. On Instagram this meant that searching #horror came with a warning that the content you're looking for could inspire harmful or dangerous behavior and urged you to seek professional help. If you pushed through this warning you found only the top rated images in the category, most of them from "influencer" profiles with 10,000 or more followers. Looking for "recent" images under #horror resulted in another warning telling you that the content was being hidden for your safety and again providing links to seek professional help. There is no way to simply look up recent images of #horror.

The familiar sting of disrespect, courtesy of Instagram.

Meanwhile, just this past week, a 17-year-old girl and Instagram "influencer" was brutally murdered by a follower who then posted graphic images of the child's mutilated body on Instagram. The images have spread like a contagious disease around the internet. As ABC news reported on the incident, Instagram has initially declined to remove the photos or do anything at all about them despite user complaints because the images “do not violate” the terms of use. It was only after a very loud, very public backlash to the images being spread that Facebook (the company that owns Instagram) stepped in and removed the pictures. Of course, by then, it was far to late.

The entire heartbreaking story is on ABC News.

Stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Let that bullshit sink in.

Instagram states that the unedited, uncensored, criminal evidence of the brutal homicide of a child does not violate their usage policies. Meanwhile, horror genre art is being censored and hidden for the safety of their online community.

Are you catching on to this now?

Like the old 80's action news slogan "If it bleeds, it leads" and social media conglomerates are actively trying to hide or remove content that is art and entertainment while making excuses for mass murder, brutality, and a seemingly endless torrent of human misery flowing from their platforms. Why? Because murder is more of a viral success than art and viral success means more revenue.

Last year, many sites including Tumblr began purging and restricting users who work in adult entertainment and as sex workers in an alleged attempt to fight human trafficking and sexual abuse. Meanwhile, well known and high profile pedophiles, abusers, and organizations with actual ties to human traffickers continue to proliferate unencumbered.

It has never been a matter of "protecting" users. Let’s make sure that we dispel that myth right here and now. If you have ever labored under the delusion that a corporate entity cares about you as anything other than a source of income, I’ve got some bad news for you. What has always been about content control has evolved over time to become a very transparent assault on free speech and the arts, particularly branches of the arts that operate outside of the mainstream and, therefore, the revenue stream, of these platforms and their major backers. After all, you aren’t likely to see posts from Fangoria being hidden, deleted, or blocked for content.

This brings us around to a weird and, frankly disconcerting bit of genre censorship. Jen and Sylvia Soska, more commonly referred to as the Soska Sisters or the Soskas have apparently been permanently banned from Twitter. As discussed in another article, Twitter has been one of the more permissive social media platforms where horror has been able to (almost) thrive. However, an image from the upcoming Soska remake of Rabid was placed in a banner for frightfest that the filmmakers chose to use as their banner image on their Twitter page. Unfortunately, due to the revised policies of Twitter (revised March 2019) the image put them in violation of those policies. Instead of a brief suspension while the duo removed the image, the site locked their page and, after a little more than a week, informed them that they were being banned from the platform for this violation.

As angry as this makes me and almost everyone in the community that continues to follow this story, it’s written pretty plainly and the company seems to be well within its rights to do what they’ve done.

The Soskas are a strange hybrid that has been created within the horror community. As independent filmmakers they have made quite a reputation for themselves and, through their partnership with Marvel as writers for Black Widow as well as their success with American Mary --among other works-- they have been slowly bridging the gap between the independent and mainstream genre communities. This is to say that they have moved beyond the sometimes obscure realm of independent horror and into a much more public as a result of their hard work and success. Rabid has been a highly anticipated remake of the classic Cronenberg film of the same name and the ban follows the release of their first trailer for the movie.

Here is where the problem lies. The internet, especially social media, is teeming with trolls and conspiracy theorists and I’ve already heard some pretty obvious sounding conspiracies about the Soska’s expulsion from the Twitterverse. The leading theory is that it is all part of a publicity stunt to gain more attention for the filmmakers who are now being persecuted for their movie. The thought is that someone in the marketing department thought that it would be great to “anonymously” report the image then ride a wave of viral outrage over the manufactured censorship which would keep the film on everyone’s lips until its release. Is it plausible? Sure it is and it wouldn’t even be the sleaziest thing that’s happened in the entertainment community in the last month. That said, I don’t believe for one minute that the Soskas or anyone working with them would commit such a fraud against an audience that already loves them, their work, and the upcoming release of Rabid.

So now what we have is an environment where independent creators are being persecuted for their work. Not just filmmakers but painters, sculptors, FX artists, photographers, models… the list goes on. Of course it’s only been smaller, less popularly known creators being effected so, for the most part, the community has turned away. After all, “it’s always been like this.” That’s my favorite line. That and “it’s not really censorship” or “you can use another hashtag.” But now we’ve got mainstream straddling successes in our community that are being targeted and, finally, we’ve got everyone focusing on this story.

So what do we do about it?

Awareness. If we have enough people talking about this issue, especially the big names in the community who actually have some clout and power within the industry, we can get a dialogue started with these social media giants. At the very least we can start directing horror fans and creators alike on how to get around these blockades. The awareness also extends to knowing what you can and can’t post on what platform and being able to intelligently and accurately fight suspensions and bans. Knowing the rules and being able to articulate a defense to justify your art is the only way to even begin to launch a counter against this shitstorm that has been invited onto us.

What won’t help is the defeatist attitude I’ve encountered from so many in the community who feel that the response to horror has always been this way and, as such, must always remain this way. What won’t help is trolling mainstream horror artists. What won’t help is reporting every single thing you think is a violation just to “get even” with people who you feel are getting away with something. Being a dick isn’t going to help this fight.

To Jen and Sylvia Soska, as a horror journalist and a horror author I am behind you as is a large portion of both the mainstream and independent horror communities.

To Fangoria, Rue Morgue, and all the major and minor horror journalism outlets out there who have only begun talking about this issue because of what has happened to the Soska Sisters, I would encourage you to reach out to creators who you might not otherwise report on and begin researching how this issue has truly been affecting the horror community. It’s going to take all of us, big and small, to start making a truly open, safe, and inclusive environment for fans and creators alike and the time to start is now.

And, is case you were wondering, here's the image that got the Soska's banned from Twitter.

Aren't you glad that the big guys at Twitter (and Instagram, and Facebook) are protecting you from make believe?


Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan on social media @dotdblog and read his stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.​

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