Article: How Censorship Impacts #Horror on Instagram

I’ve been a horror fan since I was 4 years old. It all started with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy Krueger. From there I discovered the “Thriller” music video, House, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and many more. Horror films have terrified me, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me feel the entire spectrum of emotions. While it’s always been my favorite film genre, I haven’t always been open about my love of horror.

As a woman, almost every time I mention that I love horror films or that I am a horror film critic, I get “the look.” This look often begins with shock because I apparently don’t fit the stereotype many imagine when they think of horror fans. The face then changes to discomfort and anxiety, even fear, because they think I am some deranged serial killer, and they need to get as far away from me as humanly possible. I’m sure men get this reaction too, but since horror is generally considered a “man’s genre”, I’m sure it’s not as prevalent. Even when I’m in job interviews and my film critic writing comes up, I almost never specify that I write about horror for fear they will think less of me. It’s difficult feeling like I have to hide something I’m very proud of and absolutely love doing.

If like me, you’re both an avid lover of horror and a frequent Instagram user, you’ve likely noticed a strange message that pops up when you search for images under #horror. It reads, “Can we help? Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behaviors that can cause harm and even lead to death. If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help.” This message includes buttons with the option to “Get Support,” “See Posts Anyway,” or “Cancel.” This is the same message that comes up when you search for terms such as #suicide, #anorexia, and #cutting. Yet when I search the terms #murder, #lynching, #bombing, and #shooting, the warning does not appear.

I love that Instagram is taking the initiative to offer help when it comes to people looking up suicide and other harmful activities or eating disorders. The problem is their misguided inclusion of horror in that group. When I scroll through the images that use this hashtag, I don’t see anyone promoting harmful activities. I see a community of artists and makers sharing their work. I see fans showing off their horror collections and posting pictures with their favorite horror celebrities. I see a community of people coming together over something they love and makes them happy.

By putting this message and block on horror images, Instagram is perpetuating a negative stereotype of the genre. It’s a stereotype I am constantly trying to subvert. I’ve even been making more of an effort to not hide my horror background, even during job interviews. It’s the same kind of stereotype often associated with metal music and violent video games. You would think with horror entering more of the mainstream (2018 Oscars, anyone?) that this negative view of horror would be on the way out.

What Instagram doesn’t seem to understand is how amazing the horror community is. There are always exceptions to the rule, but in my experience, I have met some of the most amazing people by bonding over our love of horror. It has been a community that has supported me not only in my writing but also personally and emotionally. I know if I’m dealing with anxiety or depression that I can turn to these amazing people, and they will do what they can to help me. How can a community like that be considered harmful or dangerous?

I know I’m not alone in my shock and outrage, especially the first time that popup keeps you from seeing horror images. The only thing I can ask of Instagram is to learn from this and remove the block on horror imagery. To all the amazing horror fans I ask that you keep sharing your artwork, your films, your collections, and anything else about the genre that makes you happy, no matter how the outside world perceives you.

Molly Henery
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