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Vanity Fair

HOW SMALL, BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES GET TANGLED IN INSTAGRAM’S AD-APPROVAL ALGORITHM. The trouble started when Kim Kardashian West posted a picture.

On September 11, she added to her Instagram Story an image of herself sitting next to accessories designer Brandon Blackwood’s canvas tote. The tote reads, “End Systemic Racism.” She wrote that proceeds would go to funding legal counsel for people of color embroiled in civil rights cases and encouraged her followers to “swipe up,” in the platform’s parlance, to purchase.

This was huge. Kardashian West is nearing 200 million Instagram followers and has a good track record, let’s call it, of moving the products she shares on the platform. To any business, her promotion is a big deal, but it’s especially so to a growing five-year-old business like Blackwood’s.

Shortly after, Instagram removed Blackwood’s ability to sell within the app, a feature he relies on for the majority of his business’s sales. Something about the amount of new attention apparently tripped Instagram’s ad censorship wires.

When he appealed, a member of the Instagram Shopping team informed him that though they had reinstated his selling privileges, the ads were a separate issue. He could not advertise the item because it could “sway the election.”

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m sorry, but a canvas tote is not going to help choose the next president,’” Blackwood told me….

But for Blackwood and his peers, the people the system is intended to help said they are often the last to know it. For someone like Tanisha Purnell, 27, owner and operator of Holistic Realness and maker of what she calls “conscious-friendly” candles, body scrubs, and cold-processed soaps, the ability to promote a post means the difference between 2,500 people seeing her work organically and 25,000 views.

Some of her products have the words “Black Lives Matter” written on the label, and so her ads get rejected and she can’t promote them, she said. Other times, per screenshots Purnell provided to Vanity Fair, when she has written the phrase in captions, the ads were rejected. In both cases, her appeals went unanswered, she said. 

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