After taking Facebook to court, several of the group’s activists who are critical of the social network’s moderation policy have opted for Patreon, which they feel is a freer and safer space to express themselves.
A torrent of messages suddenly inundated Léane’s inbox. Insults and intimidating threats from troll accounts, often ghost ones, sent at a very specific time. The young woman has had to face countless raids on Instagram. Her podcast Mécréantes (Unbelievers) has been savagely attacked. It takes on traditional ideas about feminism which she deconstructs and publicizes on her account. “I’ve received anonymous messages from people who think I’m attacking them and who take it very personally,” she says. The social network remains silent despite being told about the online harassment Léane’s been dealing with. “I reported it, but nothing was done, and my messages went unanswered. The platform doesn’t protect us,” she says.
Worse, it actually punishes. Sometimes Léane’s stories are removed “for no reason” and her account has been “shadowbanned,” meaning the visibility of her posts is restricted. Léa, the founder of Mercibeaucul, who has 150,000 followers, had her account completely removed for a month. Is her project “to own your sexuality and grow personally through educational content and online workshops” a problem? “In the end, I was told that it was a mistake, but several feminist accounts were targeted at the same time,” she says, condemning the random and unfair decisions of the network. “My artistic photos are not allowed, but YouPorn posts highly explicit images which are not removed because they circumvent the rules.”
Léa also feels the financial impact. “My visibility was practically non-existent after my account was removed. I was no longer coming up in searches, and I couldn’t live off my Instagram activity anymore,” she says. She needed to make up for lost time and redouble her efforts. Léa posted more, “but self-censored. I chose safer subjects. I was careful about everything, the photos I chose, my vocabulary, and so on. It was impossible to be as explicit as I wanted, without risking everything being shut down again.” It was a straitjacket that affected her wellbeing. “The stress of not posting enough, the hateful messages, it was a lot to cope with mentally.”
So Elvire decided to raise the alarm. The author of the documentary series “Clit Revolution” who wants social networks to be a tool for activism and education on “feminism and sexuality, but not just that,” has, like other activists fighting alongside her, run out of steam. “We try to trick the algorithm, which means we spend far too much time on Instagram, and that has an effect on our ability to concentrate and think.” While her account is temporarily and inexplicably shut down like others, the activist criticizes the lack of clarity surrounding Instagram’s moderation policy. “We need more transparency because we think it’s censoring, which affects the discriminated,” she says, while Léa points out the platform’s inconsistencies: “I want to know why porn accounts can exist, but I am increasingly censored for content that is intended to be educational.” Elvire goes further, “There’s criminal pedophilia content which is not removed whereas our accounts are banned… Why do the moderators target some accounts more than others? That’s what we want to know!” Are they the victims of a policy guided by purely economic considerations? “Instagram is trying to restrict the platform and prefers accounts which offer content that can be shared easily, which catches your eye, and is easily consumed,” Léane thinks.
Together they have decided to take another path. Patreon is “a place where you feel at home, away from violence and judgment,” says Elvire. But it’s also a space for free expression where you can tackle “difficult subjects like the issue of sex work or transgender issues which can’t be covered in a line and two stories,” says Léane. It’s far from the “snacking” culture, which according to Elvire, “is promoted by the network’s community managers, and which encourages Instagrammers to produce easy-to-do posts for entertainment… but which contain no information.”
“The people who don’t like what I do will not pay to insult,” says Léane, clearly won over by the Patreon cocoon and its “smaller but more tightly knit community” that she can cherish, “because responding to private messages from 100,000 followers is very time-consuming,” says Elvire, but it also puts people in touch with each other. “I like the idea that people can communicate amongst themselves and talk to each other without going through us,” says Léa. Joining the platform also means the end of a tough journey of posting the right content. “I don’t want to have to post polished content just to suit an algorithm anymore,” says Léa, who says she has developed “anxiety about Instagram, with the constant flow of content… I want to get back to something measured and of quality.” They can glimpse the start of a new, healthier relationship with their content production. “We just need to be paid for what we do,” says Léane, whose posts are highly documented. “It takes so much time to answer messages, put posts up, prepare live broadcasts, and we have done so much for free…but our work deserves to be paid,” says Elvire, who refuses to encourage followers to “buy things they don’t need” in accepting to be compensated by partnerships with brands “whose values we don’t share.”
However, becoming Patreon creators does not mean it’s the end of the road with Instagram. “It’s important to continue to produce free content and reach a very broad audience, but we also want to be amongst our own,” says the voice of “Clit Revolution,” comparing Patreon to “a big family meal,” where the next page in their story could very well be written.
Check out their Patreon pages: