Images of beer cans and other beverages have been taken down by Instagram without explanation, and the companies have not been able to contact the social media giant for more information.
Instagram generally forbids the promotion of alcholic content, but makes allowances for businesses and reputable individuals promoting their own product.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have been reliant on Instagram to spread brand awareness and increase sales while physical sellers have been closed.
Northern Monk, an independent brewery based in Leeds, posted on its account that a number of its pictures had been taken down. It said it had been forced to blur out the images in the hope they would not be removed.
The Independent has confirmed that a number of other breweries, including the Salford-based Seven Brothers (stylised ‘Seven Bro7hers’) and the Verdant Brewing Company in Cornwall, had also had multiple posts flagged by Instagram’s algorithm.
A screenshot shared by Seven Brothers with The Independent show at least three posts from November that went “against [Instagram’s] guidelines on sale of illegal or regulated goods”. Two of the posts were still in review, while one had been “reviewed” by the company but was still forbidden.
Social media is a key part of these companies’ business, with Seven Brothers telling The Independent that the “random” takedown happened during one of its biggest launches.
“We received a notification that was buried amongst other notifications,” Seven Brothers told The Independent. The brewery “appealed against the first removal”, which happened on 1 November, but has “yet to hear back”, calling Instagram’s support process “pretty pointless”.
The brewery said there was “no way to directly contact [Instagram] … apart from leaving a voice mail on an American phone number, which we did and they never got back to us”.
Verdant, which has 57,000 followers on Instagram, has had six posts removed since 20 October, of photos of cans or beer in a glass.
“After the first post removal, we decided to ask Instagram for a review of the decision as we didn’t understand why it got removed — but we never received any answer from them (the post is still tagged as “in review”). We then tried posting it again with the same picture and caption, and the new post got removed as well”, Timothé Duquenne, a marketing and communication manager for Verdant, told The Independent.
The brewery changed the caption, removing any mention of direct sales or specific words like “beer”, but the post was still removed.
“After the last post was taken down, we received a message from Instagram saying we could lose access to our account if we have other posts flagged and removed in the future. It’s quite scary!”, Duquenne said, adding that it noticed a “big decrease in our reach rate since the posts have been flagged to Instagram”.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of many pubs and restaurants in the United Kingdom in order to stop the spread of the virus - with 40 pubs closing per week and almost 90 million pints of beer wasted - and the inability to keep business afloat using social media has been a real concern of those who are left.
“During the pandemic … our web shop was our sole source of income during a really difficult time”, Seven Brothers told The Independent. “Instagram is the main platform we use to promote the online sales and how we communicate with our customers and community.
“We have worked for many years to build this community so if it was to be removed, due to some technical issue that clearly isn’t working correctly, we would be devastated. It would most definitely impact our online sales greatly.”
The community standards of Instagram’s parent company Meta (formerly Facebook), states that it will restrict “attempts to buy, sell or trade alcohol” except when posted by a page or profile that “represent[s] legitimate brick-and-mortar entities, including retail businesses, websites or brands”.
Meta also allows for content that refers to alcohol which will “be exchanged or consumed on location at an event, restaurant, bar, party and so on”.
The Independent has reached out to Instagram for comment and an explanation of why the posts were being removed.
Meta’s moderation policies have been repeatedly called into question - on more serious subjects. During the assault on Gaza in May this year, Instagram removed or blocked posts with hashtags for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in the Islamic faith, as its moderation system mistakenly deemed the religious building a terrorist organisation.
Instagram has also had to apologise for removing images that show female nipples; in 2015, its former chief executive Kevin Systrom said that this was due to the risk of Apple removing it from the App Store.
Meta has had a history of failing to properly moderate content. Contractors made to moderate content have been exposed to the worst posts on Facebook’s numerous platforms without proper support, leading some down conspiracy theory rabbit holes and concerns about self-harm.
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