Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift had an exhausting day on the internet on Monday. In the immediate aftermath of Kardashian releasing video footage confirming that Swift did, in fact, have a conversation with Kanye West about her name drop in his song “Famous,” public opinion has taken a dramatic turn against Swift.
There were memes and think pieces galore, but on top of all that, people flooded Swift’s Instagram response with comments to let her know how they really felt. They accused her of being a liar and called out her tendency to always play the role of a victim who needs to be coddled when things don’t work out in her favor. Several simply left snake emojis.
But go look at the comments right now. Of course you can’t scroll through the 380,000 (and counting) comments, but even thumbing through the first hundred, you may notice something. No one has anything negative thing to say.
According to multiple outlets, Instagram users are reporting that the app is actively monitoring her post, deleting comments that contain rat or snake emojis or any sort of “hate speech.” If you try to leave a comment with snake emojis, good luck—you’ll likely run into a pop-up from Instagram warning you that they “restrict certain content and actions to protect our community.”
Technically, they’re allowed to do that. Instagram’s community guidelines allow them to remove “content that contains credible threats or hate speech, content that targets private individuals to degrade or shame them, personal information meant to blackmail or harass someone, and repeated unwanted messages.” And when StyleCaster asked Instagram for a response, a spokesperson simply said, “We’re always looking for better ways to help people prevent spammy or inappropriate comments on Instagram.” But it seems as if Swift is getting special attention.
Ignore the weird implications of selective censorship for a minute—we’ll get to that. Because while Instagram was busy deleting emojis, Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones was spending her Monday retweeting racist comments she’s been receiving in wake of the movie’s release.
At first, Twitter took no action against accounts hurling racial slurs and derogatory comments in her direction. Jones was forced to manually block the offenders herself, many of whom were likening her to an ape and barraging her with offensive pictures. A user posing as her was even posting homophobic comments under her name.
After several other high-profile celebrities, such as Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, weighed in, Twitter began to ban the racist Twitter accounts. Late last night they released a statement: “People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”
But it was too little too late. Yesterday afternoon, Jones announced that she is deleting her Twitter account.
Let that sink in.
Here’s the thing: being a woman on the internet sucks sometimes. Like, a lot. Women are harassed constantly and viciously, often for no reason other than the fact that they’re female. Very few of us are immune; a recent study showed that nearly 76% of women under 30 who are online experience some form of abuse or harassment.
I’m sure a fair amount of the comments on Swift’s post were spammy or inappropriate or derogatory. I’m sure a fair amount of the comments were pieces of hate speech that deserved to be deleted. But how do we decide when a simple emoji counts as hate speech? How do we decide where the line is drawn between legitimate criticism and harassment?
How did we decide that celebrities—but only a select few—are above this? Instagram’s community guidelines clearly state that they protect “private individuals.” Swift is a public figure. Negative comments are what she signed up for when she signed up for fame. This isn’t an issue of protecting someone from pure hate speech: It’s an issue of coddling and protecting a privileged white celebrity from any vague form of negative sentiment.
Why is Instagram stepping into this particular situation when they did nothing for the slew of bee and lemon emojis against not only Rachel Roy but also her 16-year-old daughter after Beyoncé’s Lemonade dropped? What about all the trolls on Kesha’s account? What about the attacks (full of snake emojis, no less) on Kardashian? What about real, unfamous women who experience harassment on a daily basis?
If the hate toward Taylor Swift is the kind of content Instagram wants to censor, it needs to censor it for everyone—not just a few. When Leslie Jones can be called every racial slur in the book and has to sit back and take it, but Taylor Swift’s feelings are hurt by snake emojis and are therefore removed, that’s called white privilege. There is really no other way to describe it.
The selective action of intervening happening on Swift’s social media right now is real-time evidence of how Swift represents a dangerous form of white women. As journalist Damon Young says, we all know a woman like Swift: She twists situations to become the victim and gets preferential treatment, especially when pitted against people of color. Maybe that’s why we are so actively interested in this situation.
It’s not a funny thing to watch anymore. Not in this time of such elevated tension. Not in this time when white cops are shooting black men on camera and getting away with it. And certainly not in a time when your silence on the subject speaks volumes.
No, the white-female-victim game that Taylor Swift plays isn’t funny anymore, and it has passed the point of being tired and has veered into dangerous territory. She has millions of little girls looking up to her, and her actions leave lasting impressions. They have consequences.
Girls need protecting sometimes, yes, and the internet needs to be better about the harassment we face on a daily basis. But young girls also need to know that not everyone gets special treatment, particularly if they’re not white. Not everyone gets to behave badly without being held accountable. They need to learn that crying foul any time they feel wronged isn’t an automatic fix. That, when someone says something critical of them, the best response is to work hard, succeed, and prove them wrong, not to argue about character assassination.
Above all else, young girls need to learn how to be the heroines of their lives, not the victims. Unfortunately, that’s not the example Swift is portraying today.