Instagram has launched a function allowing users to further limit the amount of potentially sensitive material, including “sexually suggestive” content, that they see in the app’s Explore section.

The ‘Sensitive Content Control’ function, announced on 20 July 2021, has stoked debate among sex-focused creators and artists. Many are concerned that their work may become less visible on the app.

However, the new function also allows users to increase the amount of potentially sensitive material that they see in the Explore section, which shows content from users you don’t follow.

The Facebook-owned app doesn’t generally allow genitalia or female nipples to be shown on the platform, but “sexually suggestive” content allowed could include images of someone in a state of undress.

“Something has become increasingly clear over the years – people have very different views about the experience we offer, and if it’s the right one for them. We believe people should be able to shape Instagram into the experience that they want,” Instagram said in a statement.

Instagram's content filters

Concerns have been raised that greater amounts of sexuality-focused content may be filtered out of users’ Explore feeds, by Instagram’s algorithms.

“Sexual education content is absolutely fine… if you left the default option on, you would still continue to see sexual education content there. But if you want to engage with a lot of creators who post about sexual education and you remove the default option, there is a high potential to see even more,” Instagram policy communications manager, Riki Wane, told Shape:

Phillip Miner, an artist who says his goal is “normalizing gay sex with some politics”, posts sexually-suggestive works onto the app and has over 12,000 followers.

On 22 July 2021, after the ‘Sensitive Content Control’ function launched, he wrote: “Instagram made it harder for you to see or share work that explores content that Instagram deems ‘inappropriate’… this not only affects the artists and entertainers who need Instagram to survive, it also affects your overall Instagram experience.”

Artist Phillip Miner’s Instagram feed

He later wrote: “I’ve had many conversations with artists and creators who are incredibly frustrated by having their work hidden. Conversely, people are frustrated that they can’t find the content they want to see.”

He added that in response, he was working on a resource page for creators that would exist outside of Instagram.

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, wrote: “Given that we, feel we have a responsibility to be careful to not recommend anything that might be sensitive, we have a responsibility to do what we can to keep people safe, but we’d like the balance that with more transparency and more choice.”

To access the new ‘Sensitive Content Control’ function you need to open your profile on Instagram, click on ‘Settings’, then ‘Account’, then ‘Sensitive content control’. There you can choose ‘Limit (Default)’, which allows you to see “some photos and videos that could be upsetting or offensive”. You can choose ‘Limit Even More’ to see fewer photos like these. Finally, the ‘Allow’ option adjusts settings to increase the amount of potentially sensitive content you see.

The company has reiterated that the new settings options only apply to Instagram’s ‘Explore’ function. The ‘Sensitive Content Control’ settings do not affect what’s shown in your main Instagram feed.

Some users have complained about the ‘Allow’ setting not showing up in their app, despite them being over the age of 18, the minimum age required to access it. Instagram has said it is looking into the problem, though this will be of little consolation to people whose livelihoods have been affected.

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