Instagram, along with many other social media organizations, such as Twitter and Facebook, has been known to censor, block, and ban accounts that post content political viewpoints that they consider questionable and objectionable. This issue quickly became a reality for Veteran-owned T-Shirt Company, Patriotic AF.
Patriotic AF, owned by combat veteran and entrepreneur, Josh Holyfield, was started in 2017 as a way to work toward building a Patriotic community directed toward giving back to the Military, Veteran, Law Enforcement, and First Responder communities through charity, outreach, and education. Since then, Patriotic AF saw a significant growth in their following on Instagram and received support from followers, customers, and affiliates across social media. In doing so, they have contributed to Veterans impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Florence; contributed to breast cancer research, as well as several other local charity events. Patriotic AF has even been known to assist local veterans in navigating the Department of Veteran's Affairs processes for obtaining disability claims and benefits.
Here's The Story Of Their Censorship, which has directly impacted Patriotic AF's sales and ability to actively contribute to their charity causes; which many believe isn't a coincidence that it occurred only days before this year's mid-term elections:
"I've fallen victim to shadow bans and constant harassment through post removal and having to repeatedly 'confirm' my email address and phone number since about February 2018," Josh says; "but it wasn't until October 31st, the week before the mid-term election, was my account shut down."
- Email Sent to Patriotic AF stating that someone else had logged into their Instagram Account
"Of course, this was completely unexpected, I didn't change my password, and I hadn't posted anything on my business page that was offensive or vulgar. We had started a campaign to help assist our followers in educating themselves on current political issues, encouraging them to get out and vote during the upcoming election"
Immediately following their account ban, attempting to navigate the appeal process proved difficult to say the least. Instagram, owned by Facebook, utilizes an automated ticketing system and offers now way of directly communicating with a representative. After finally being given the opportunity to submit a ticket, later that day, they received an automated message:
As seen in the email correspondence, there is no denying that there is no denying the ownership and authenticity of the Patriotic AF Instagram account; and the ban was erroneous. However, following its reactivation on November 2nd, two days later, it was only deactivated again the same day. There was no reason offered, the page was just turned off. Patriotic AF was forced to undergo Instagram's appeal process once again. This time, the only notification received was an email from Instagram indicating that the account Password had been changed:
This time, the response time was a bit more delayed from the Facebook support team, taking four days for a response, the day following the mid-term elections. Still, at this point, no reason or explanation was provided to the team and with no choice but to comply, the Patriotic AF team sent over another picture in response to their request:
This time, it took Instagram five days to reactivate the Patriotic AF Instagram Page, but yet again, the page was immediately deactivated again, this time, Instagram requesting Patriotic AF account owners to send copies of the tax filings or equivalent to verify ownership of the account:
Since, November 18th, Patriotic AF has received no response from Instagram or Facebook regarding the status of their account, which was holding strong at about twenty thousand followers, growing at a rate of approximately 150 new followers per day. But this is where the censorship was taken to another level, and Patriotic AF owners knew it was their account being censored.
On December 2nd, Patriotic AF decided to cut their losses with the old account and create a new one following a devastating loss in sales, support, and customers from their Instagram audience. They started a new account, @patriotic_as_fck, and started from scratch. Using a new email, but the same customer service phone number. Even in doing so, their account was banned after only 12 hours. This time, Instagram requesting them to input a six-digit code sent in an email to their registered address, which they never sent.
Patriotic AF has been unable to keep an active Instagram account for longer than 24 hours without being censored, blocked, and banned. One solution has proven to be successful for the time being. By being forced to pay for a new phone number, provide an unaffiliated email address, and use a VPN service to log in, Patriotic AF's new Instagram page, @patrioticaf.us, has been active for 48 hours. This time, however, the page has already been shadowbanned and cannot be discovered in Instagrams organic hashtag searches or discovery tools.
"I have tried to do nothing but provide a positive atmosphere with entertaining and informative content for my followers. For me, Patriotic AF isn't just my livelihood to provide for my family, but it gives me a way to pursue my passion for helping others. Specifically, those who sacrifice so much for our country, while under such scrutiny from those they serve.
I would really love to believe that my constitutional rights aren't being violated and these companies believe in the rights and liberties granted by this great country; but unfortunately, I'm not the only one who has been censored."
**Update: Approximately 4:30 minutes after posting this blog article and sharing it across social media, newly created @patrioticaf.us Instagram was disabled, blocked, and banned.