Social media giants are accused of ‘hypocrisy’ as campaigners say they are blocking vital women’s health information despite allowing the publication of sexualised images

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Campaigners have accused social media giants of ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘censorship’
  • Experts say qualified professionals should be able to share women’s health info

Women’s health information is being blocked on social media platforms that allow the publication of sexualised images, campaigners claim.

Charities and health activists have accused Instagram, Facebook and other tech giants of ‘hypocrisy’ for removing or restricting educational posts, while failing to crack down on inappropriate images.

Experts said it was important qualified professionals could share advice on women’s health and sexual wellbeing on social media to combat disinformation and reach wider audiences.

The survey showed nine out of 10 accounts which shared women’s health content said they had experienced some form of censorship in the last 12 months

But new research has revealed posts featuring practical health information, including warnings about how to identify cancer, were being wrongly flagged as pornographic or inappropriate because they used anatomical terms such as ‘breast’ or ‘vagina’.

Nine out of ten accounts which shared women’s health content said they had experienced some form of censorship in the last 12 months, according to a survey of more than 50 organisations by the CensHERship campaign.

Social media platforms use algorithms to flag up and remove content deemed inappropriate – but campaigners say these automatic systems are biased because they typically classify terms for female body parts as ‘inappropriate’ without considering whether they have been used in a sexual context.

In examples reported to CensHERship, a post explaining how women should check their breasts for cancer was flagged as ‘prostitution’ and a sex education account was deleted from Instagram.

A breast cancer awareness campaign had to resort to using male nipples in its posts because female nipples were banned, while a campaign raising awareness of gynaecological cancers had restrictions applied to its account after it used the word ‘vagina’.

Nine out of 10 of respondents reported censorship on Instagram and four out of 10 had issues on Facebook. Some issues were also reported on other platforms, such as TikTok and LinkedIn.

Commenting on the survey, Janet Lindsay, chief executive of the charity Wellbeing of Women, said: ‘Using anatomical terms to provide accurate health information is fundamental to helping women advocate for their health and get the care they need.

‘Social media companies need to help empower women by ending this censorship.’

CensHERship campaign co-founder Anna O’Sullivan, whose FutureFemHealth account shares news on advances in women’s health technology, said: ‘This is an entirely avoidable situation if social media platforms [would] agree to adjust their policies to avoid the restriction and censorship of women’s health content.’

Author and co-founder of the campaign Clio Wood had her Instagram account flagged for ‘inappropriate content’ after she posted an innocent video of herself dancing in a bikini in order to promote body positivity and self-confidence.

Yet there are currently more than 48million posts on Instagram under the hashtag #bikini – many of which are highly sexualised images and some feature very young women.

She said: ‘What’s especially galling is that every day men’s health topics are left uncensored, and hyper-sexualised women’s bodies, unsolicited pictures and fake accounts using nearly-naked female profile pictures are making their way into social media feeds and inboxes unchecked.

‘It’s hypocritical.’

Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, claims it does not have a blanket ban on words like ‘menopause’ or ‘vagina’, declined to comment on the survey results.


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