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OPINION

My Instagram Growth Suddenly Stopped; Am I a Victim of Viewpoint Discrimination?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

My radio colleague Dennis Prager heads a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization called Prager University. It shares five-minute educational videos from a conservative perspective. There have been over 2 billion views. No sex. No profanity. No chase scenes. But YouTube has placed restrictions on over 100 videos, including videos on the Ten Commandments, according to Allen Estrin of PragerU. YouTube also restricted one I wrote and narrated, "Is America Racist?" in which I refute the narrative that police engage in "institutional racism" against blacks.

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In a 2016 press release, PragerU said: "YouTube is censoring these videos by placing them under 'restricted mode.' Many families and schools enable restricted mode in order to keep inappropriate language, and explicit adult and sexual content away from children -- not to prevent them from watching animated, age-appropriate, educational videos on topics ranging from economics and history to happiness and philosophy." In response, Google, which owns YouTube, said, "We don't censor anyone," adding that they "take into consideration" the video's "intent" and its "focus."

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said, "What makes the threat of political censorship so problematic is the lack of transparency, the invisibility, the ability for a handful of giant tech companies to decide if a particular speaker is disfavored."

Now it appears I might well be a victim of viewpoint discrimination. Tell me I'm wrong or paranoid and there's a simple explanation. Here's my case.

I began taking Instagram seriously sometime around March of this year. Someone had set up an account for me years earlier, and I think I may have posted about 10 pictures. It was dormant and had 3.3K followers, about the same number that had quickly followed the account when it was set up. There was virtually no growth because I posted no new pictures.

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But a social media-savvy Gen Zer convinced me I should use the platform, as a huge number of people who share my views don't use Twitter but prefer Instagram. So I got serious, as mentioned, in March. Since then, I've posted several items a day, nearly every day. No vulgarity. No nudity. Just pictures and memes from a conservative perspective -- oh, and plenty of sarcasm skewering Democrats, socialists and collectivists.

The results were immediate.

As with Twitter and Facebook, I began getting hundreds of new followers per day. My Instagram followers grew from 3K at the beginning of March to 68.9K as of two weeks ago. I'm told that's pretty impressive daily growth. Every day, without fail, I got hundreds of new Instagram followers, averaging 400 to 500 a day. The pace suggested I'd reach well over 100K by year's end.

But as of about two weeks ago, my number of Instagram followers came to a standstill at 68.9K. Dead stop. Same number every day. Meanwhile, on Twitter and Facebook, I'm still getting hundreds of new followers per day. But on Instagram, 68.9K. Same number every day.

Instagram allows users to submit complaints, and I've sent several. No response.

When I complained about Instagram on Twitter a few days ago, several people suggested Instagram had "bottle-capped" me, a term I'd never heard of. I learned that bottle-capping someone means placing a ceiling on that person's followers, presumably to limit that person's presence and clout on social media -- an action I didn't think Instagram would be so brazen to take. But 68.9K every day for two weeks while, over the same two-week period, my growth on Twitter and Facebook continued at its usual rate?

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Instagram is owned by Facebook. In response to allegations of anti-conservative bias, Facebook commissioned a study headed by Republican then-Sen. Jon Kyl. His report found "concerns," noting that the social media platform intends to "create a board that would review the most difficult and nuanced content decisions with independent judgment." The report also says that in recent months Facebook hired staff for the purpose of "working with third-party groups ... including staff dedicated to working with right-of-center organizations and leaders."

Kyl's report concludes: "Facebook insists that it is committed to safety, equal treatment and building community. Although we recognize that this may involve some tradeoffs between safety and free expression, we do not believe there is any need to cut off robust diversity of thought. Indeed, conservatives consistently expressed the view that, while platform users should be protected from harm, no one has a right to not to feel offended or to be immune from criticism. Facebook has recognized the importance of our assessment and has taken some steps to address the concerns we uncovered. But there is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives."

OK, so what to make of my Instagram followers, stuck now for two weeks at the very same number? Scratch that. As of yesterday morning, my number of Instagram followers has declined by 100! Now I'm at 68.8K. So not only am I no longer gaining Instagram followers, I'm losing them.

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Thoughts? Suggestions? Advice?

Larry Elder is a bestselling author and nationally syndicated radio talk show host. To find out more about Larry Elder, or become an "Elderado," visit www.LarryElder.com. Follow Larry on Twitter @LarryElder. 

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