Last month, former World No. 1 pistol shooter and Olympian Heena Sidhu uploaded a ‘paid partnership’ promotional video for an automobile brand on her Instagram account. In the video, she talks about the newly launched variant of a compact SUV, before driving the car to a shooting range and firing from her pistol at the target.
A few days later, Sidhu found that restrictions had been placed on her Instagram account. She was not allowed to add captions to subsequent posts, personal or promotional. She took to Twitter to complain.
“Hey @instagram I am a shooter, an athlete of a sport played in hundreds of countries and at the #olympics. Can you please stop blocking my account every time your bots spot a #Pistol in my posts. I thought my account got white listed the last time… But it has happened again!”
What the 31-year-old with 171K followers on Instagram had inadvertently done was go against Facebook’s — which owns Instagram — advertisement policy which prohibits “ads promoting the brandishing of firearms”.
Which meant that if Sidhu had simply uploaded a photograph of herself at the range, that would have been above board, but the reason her post fell foul of the social media giant’s policies was that it was an “ad”.
“The content in question shows firearms, which is prohibited as per our advertising policies,” a Facebook company spokesperson told The Indian Express. “Ads must not promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition or explosives.”
Her account, however, was restored without restrictions earlier this week following discussions between her manager and representatives of the social media company.
“Because they can see me with a pistol and they can see me shoot, they have blocked me from putting a caption under any new post. So I can’t do any promotional work again,” Sidhu told this paper just after she complained on Twitter on October 18.
“I think you can show the pistol, but you can’t show firing a shot. That’s probably the thing triggering the bots (that monitor posts). It gets very embarrassing because you have these paid partnerships, and now you can’t put anything up,” Sidhu had said.
The post, which can still be viewed on her feed, was not taken down because it did not go against Facebook’s Community Standards, the Facebook spokesperson said. Posting information that depicts or incites violence, compromises safety, plagiarism and fraud constitutes breaking Community Standards.
This however, isn’t the first time Sidhu’s posts have fallen foul of the social media giant’s advertising policies. In July last year, she put her own twist to the then viral ‘bottle cap challenge’. Instead of kicking the cap off a bottle, she decided to shoot it open. Sidhu tagged one of her sponsors, an insurance company in the post.
“Last time (during the bottle cap challenge), I couldn’t run a promotion. This time I can’t put up a caption,” she added. “I had spoken to someone at the time and I was told that this is not done manually. Each post goes through a screening with bots, and that since there was some shooting, it raised flags. I had to explain that I’m an athlete and this is what I do, and that this is not in a negative connotation, this is to promote the sport — an Olympic sport. The thing is, it’s a verified account, so they know I’m an athlete and this is my sport,” the Commonwealth and Asian Games medal winner said.
The post endorsing the automobile company wasn’t the first time Sidhu had uploaded a video of her practising at a shooting range – there’s one uploaded on March 2, 2019, from a Commonwealth Range, as the caption says. But since it wasn’t a promotional post, the video did not result in any restrictions on her posts or account.
Facebook’s advertisement policy, published on the website, regarding weapons allows discussion regarding firearms and other equipment related to it, provided the dialogue does not instigate a sale. Advertisement of miscellaneous equipment that can accompany a firearm – such as holsters, sights etc – must be restricted only to users above the age of 18.
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