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Backstory: Happiest Ending

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The fine-art photograph by Olivia Oh - COURTESY OF OLIVIA OH @BYOLIVIAOH
  • Courtesy Of Olivia Oh @byoliviaoh
  • The fine-art photograph by Olivia Oh

In September, my editor heard that PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury had been banned from Instagram for posting a photo of a woman's nipple. People get banned from social media all the time for all kinds of things, but it seemed like Instagram was an important component of PhotoPlace's business, so I called up the owner to check it out. James Barker told me that a gallery staffer had posted a photo of a woman with one bare breast visible, and Instagram had shut down the account the same day without warning.

Barker had tried to restore the account through Instagram's official channels for three weeks but never heard anything back. Eventually, he gave up and started a new Instagram account with a fraction of the followers.

"We've never posted anything like that before ... There is no history whatsoever," Barker told me. "But one breast, and down we go."

With a quote like that, there was no way I wasn't writing a story. I also received an email from the photographer, Olivia Oh, who wrote eloquently about her frustrations with Instagram's nudity policy of restricting female nipples (unless engaged in breastfeeding) but not male ones.

But I wanted to try to confirm Barker's account of what happened. I found an email address at Instagram dedicated to press requests and sent a message requesting comment. Honestly, I didn't expect to hear back — Instagram is a $100 billion company, and I'm an arts writer in Vermont. But within a day, I got a response from a communications person promising to look into the incident. And in a few days, we got an official statement from a Facebook (Instagram's parent company) spokesperson: "The account was mistakenly removed and we apologize for the inconvenience."

The account was back, sans nude photo. Barker announced its return in an email to PhotoPlace fans, writing, "A local, arts-oriented newspaper picked up the saga of our Instagram closure, and, being a dutiful press person, the reporter checked with IG to hear their side of the story. Instagram immediately responded, apologized profusely (to the reporter, of course — not to PhotoPlace Gallery) and reinstated our old account on the spot. This, after three weeks of daily emails got us nowhere."

While that stated timeline is hastened and saying Instagram "apologized profusely" is a stretch, it was interesting to see how much more quickly a request from a reporter got attention than messages and complaints from the actual account holder did.

As Barker wrote at the end of his email, "If this ever happens to you, get a reporter on the story!" Thankfully, nobody else has taken his advice just yet.

The story also sparked an interesting email chain in which Seven Days editors debated whether we could post a nipple on our own website. The answer, ultimately, was a resounding yes. A particular highlight was news editor Matthew Roy's comment: "Oh, run it. It's a booby from an art show."