A tale of digital censorship, plus 14 tips for how to fight back
They don’t want us to have nice things.
By “they” I mean social media platforms. By “us” I mean Black and brown content creators. And by “nice things”, I mean a voice. Creators of color – and of flava – are consistently either completely silenced or partially muted on social media platforms. And frankly, that needs to stop.
Like Black lives, Black voices matter.
The censorship and deplatforming of Black voices is unfortunately nothing new. From LinkedIn to Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok , Black and brown content creators struggle to get their content seen. We often have our voices suppressed by the algorithm, and by moderators who are not from the culture. It has happened to people I know personally, as well as to my wider network of friends and contacts on LinkedIn.
Recently, it happened to me as well.
Inspired by my almost permanent state of exhaustion, I had written (on LinkedIn) an inoffensive and relatable post (or so I thought) about how we collectively need rest, and it started to perform well. Probably because, you know, we all need rest. When I did my last social media sweep of the evening, I realized that although I could see a few notifications about the post, I was unable to respond to them. At first I thought it was a simple glitch, and then it dawned on me that my content had, in fact, been censored.
To be clear, this was not the first time that my content had been suppressed. I’ve been shadow-banned on every platform. Multiple times. It never feels good. (For example, my “You Might Be A Racist” quote graphics that I posted on Facebook somehow “mysteriously” got practically no views. Go figure.)
However what made it worse this time was that my post – again: about “rest”, not racism, or anything potentially divisive – had been entirely removed. As in deleted.
- No communication
- No explanation
- No notification
I felt the air leave my lungs.
I felt a wave of distress and anxiety start rising.
I felt confused.
I could not understand why this post, of all my posts, had been removed.
And what made it worse was that I had broken my own rule and written directly into the app, rather than drafting my post first. So…it was gone gone. I could not even do what I normally do and re-post it with a snarky new intro.
But while those feelings roiled (and roil they did), I sprang into action and asked my network for help. Best. Decision. Ever. Long story short, my LinkedIn family made so much noise that my post was reinstated by the next morning. I even got an apology from LinkedIn Help.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone that commented, commiserated, offered advice, tagged LinkedIn Help, and offered support in any way. I appreciate you all. Much love, gratitude, and respek.
Of course none of us has full control over the algorithm, or what happens with our content once it is out in the ether, but there are some measures that we can take to protect ourselves and our content.
For greater control:
2. Pay if possible. If you have a website, and you have the budget, pay for your own web hosting. The rule of thumb is that if the platform is free, then despite all appearances YOU are the product. The owners of the free platforms have carte blanche to do as they please. If you are paying for your platform, then you have somewhat more control, as there is a contractual agreement (and a measure of leverage) once money is exchanged.
3. Draft your content separately. Write your articles outside of whatever app or platform you intend to post them on. Screen record your videos after you have created them natively in your app of choice. Which leads us to:
4. Save, double-save, and triple-save. Use Google docs, your notes app, even email to capture your content elsewhere.
5. Keep your receipts. Screenshot everything. Posts, problematic comments, all of it. It’s exhausting, but it is worth it. Just as Black people are not allowed to simply exist, neither can free to simply create. We need proof of all things. We need to prove our validity and our veracity. So: #ScreenshotABully, #ScreenshotABigot, and #ScreeshotARacist.
For greater visibility:
6. Post the same content multiple times, on multiple networks. Vary its format slightly to tailor it to each platform, but the key is to strategically recycle your own content. You can also post identical content, but at different times of day. A lag of 3-5 hours between postings is usually sufficient.
7. Selectively tag people in your network. Emphasis on selectively. For the love of all that is holy: Do. Not. Spam. People. Especially people with whom you have never interacted. However it is ok to tag a few people with whom you have an established relationship.
8. Comment on your own posts. If you are writing a long post, use some of it as your main caption, and post the rest in the comments. Activity breeds more activity. And the algos love activity. (Just not too much, lol. Nothing is easy. If you go overboard, the algorithm could flag it as bot activity and shut down your account. So: moderation in all things.)
9. Interact early and often. If possible (if you’re not too busy), respond to every comment, even if it is only with a like. Better yet, respond with an actual response. A thumbs up, a smile, or preferably a brief sentence. The sooner you interact with your audience, the better a chance your post has of performing well.
10. Post links in the first comment. If you are linking to an article, post a photo of its header image in your main caption, and then put the actual link to the content in the comments. Neither LinkedIn nor Facebook like it when you use a link as a post.
If your content is censored or shadow-banned:
11. Leverage your network. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. Again: tread lightly. When I asked my connections for help with my deleted post, I tagged people with whom I am close, and connections who had interacted with the post before it was taken down.
12. Revisit your hashtags. This is Instagram-specific: there are some hashtags that have been banned due to overuse or inappropriate content. Check your hashtags and adjust accordingly.
13. Revisit your caption. Once I posted a video on Instagram and my caption included “…brought to you by my fivehead” (Lol) The algorithm read that as “sponsored content” and shadow-banned the video until I updated the caption.
14. Use the platform’s escalation procedures. It can be a long shot, but tag or contact the help center of the platform in question. May the odds be ever in your favor.
Continue to #DoTheWork. Remember, if your work was not resonating – if your content was not doing what you intended for it to do – they would not be attempting to silence you. It’s a small comfort, but it means that you’re doing something right. Keep fighting the good fight.
Unless otherwise stated, text and images ⒸLisa Hurley/@happyhappyphoenix
**First published July 2021. Updated August 2022.**