Instagram: The Next Social Media Platform to Censor Political Content?

Jesse Duquette, a political cartoonist who regularly criticizes President Trump, had one of his cartoons removed from Instagram with no explanation. Marc Steiner talks to him about his cartoons and what happened

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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner.

Banning political content via digital media is on the rise. While we have talked about Alex Jones, the impact of his banning by Facebook, critics of the Trump administration, anti-racist activists and activists in general have had Facebook shut down their pages, and seen themselves banned by all manner of digital media. One such person is Jesse Duquette, who produces political cartoons that take on Donald Trump on his site The Don that had been, and now is back on, Instagram. Well, the one cartoon was taken down. Why was that cartoon banned? What’s his content? What is this all about? We’re about to find out, because we’re talking to Jesse Duquette. And welcome to The Real News, Jesse.

JESSE DUQUETTE: Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER: So what happened- before you tell us what happened, let’s take a step backwards a bit. So you’re a political cartoonist. Where did that begin, and how did you get into all this?

JESSE DUQUETTE: Well, the one qualifier, I would say, is I’m very amateur political cartoonist.

MARC STEINER: Prolific amateur, then.

JESSE DUQUETTE: Sure, I’ll take that. All right. But it started with the inauguration, or I guess more specifically the first press conference with Sean Spicer, and his real wacky statement about the inauguration crowd size. Something about that really, I guess, unnecessary lie really struck me. And I think, I think the reference at this point has become pretty stale and old, but it really conjured up a lot of memories of reading 1984.

So I drew a picture of Sean Spicer, added a George Orwell quote to it, and kind of halfhandedly put it up on my personal Instagram feed to share with my, you know, hundred or so friends I was connected with. And added, again off the cuff, more of like a dare or challenge to myself that, you know, I’m going to try to do one of these every day during this administration just to, as a way of documentation. I think maybe 20 percent of me really believed that I would do it beyond, you know, three to five days. But here we are, 576 days later.

MARC STEINER: And you have been doing these daily, right?

JESSE DUQUETTE: Yeah, every day. Yeah.

MARC STEINER: So tell me what it is- before we get into the heart of the cartoon and that one cartoon being banned from Instagram, and what happened as a result of that, talk a bit about just for a moment, I’m curious, your angst and anger at Trump. That clearly pushes this. I mean, because some of your cartoons are, for want of a better term, to say it lightly, are forceful.

JESSE DUQUETTE: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think my, my dislike, I guess I’ll put it that way, to him it is not purely because of the office he holds. I think my dislike for him is very personal, as well. I think, I think he’s a terrible person. You know, it’s not he’s just a terrible president. He’d be a terrible fishmonger. I mean, I just think he’s a bad guy. So you know, I think that’s where so much of my animus comes from. And that also, I think, plays out to the very best people that he hires around him. I tend to feel similarly about them the more I’m faced with them. So yeah, I mean, it’s a combination. Professional and personal animosity that I definitely have towards him.

MARC STEINER: So let’s let’s talk about this one piece you have, his cartoon. I’m going to read this for our listeners, let’s because pop this cartoon back up on the screen for a moment. Because we’re going to talk about this and what was banned here. So you can see, folks, what it says, but I’ll read it really quickly. So the cartoon itself says “Neo-Nazis emboldened under Trump as bigot rallies are planned to mark the one year anniversary of Charlottesville.” And you have Trump saying, which you see right here, oh, you shouldn’t have. Actually, you probably should have. All that mainstreaming of your said bigot basement lives, you’re welcome. With his kind of clown hat on that’s a Ku Klux Klan hat, and sitting in front of a birthday cake with a Nazi emblem as a candle.

And so what- so that’s what- this was banned from Instagram, right?

JESSE DUQUETTE: Yeah, for a little less than a week or so. Three days, four days.

MARC STEINER: And did you- tell me what happened after it was banned, when you discovered it, and what interaction you may have had or not had with Instagram.

JESSE DUQUETTE: I had no interaction. Instagram is profoundly difficult to communicate with.

MARC STEINER: As all these platforms are. They’re really hard to communicate with.

JESSE DUQUETTE: By design, right. I mean, I think that’s not, there’s not a mistake there. But this also isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s happened, I think, a total of maybe four-ish times over the past year and a half.

MARC STEINER: To you?

JESSE DUQUETTE: Yeah. Yeah. And when this one got taken down, you know, part of me wasn’t surprised. Because again, you know, the birthday cake is in the shape of a swastika. Certainly there’s, you know, there is- that does, I think, qualify under community guidelines as offensive imagery. However, the reason that was given to me- and this as also the first of the four times where this has happened- where they actually deigned to give me a reason. Most of the time they don’t. Just like this, this is taken down. Have a nice day.

But this one, they actually said it was because the post encouraged violence and/or depicted violence. And so that particularly, I think, really bothered me. I think it was one thing that they said hey, you used a swastika, we’re taking it down. I still would have a problem with it because there’s been just alt-right and white nationalist accounts that posted swastikas without a trace of irony that I have reported that have remained up. So I would have taken issue with that, as well. But I think the reason given just didn’t square with me well.

So you know, I put up a post about it being taken down. I thought it was important to be transparent about it. I did a little bit of loose online searching, how can I talk to Instagram. But you know, couldn’t really find anything. But randomly, a person who follows me on Instagram works for Instagram, and they made it- they messaged me, let me know, hey, you know, just so you know, I work at Instagram. I sent a note on your behalf kind of pleading the case. And he got back to me a couple of days later saying that Instagram had reposted it, and that’s when I learned it was back up. And that they claimed it was a mistake.

So I don’t know where it came from. I know that Truthdig apparently had reached out as well, to get some insight. So I don’t know what moved the needle there, but something did, and lo and behold, it was back up.

MARC STEINER: And you’re, I mean, you’ll admit- I mean, the cartoons that you draw about Trump. The one I was just looking at before I walked through the door here, I looked at a lot of them. You have the s-hole president and his head popping out of a toilet. I mean, they’re more than biting. I mean, they really go after him in a really visceral way. And an intellectual way, too, because you add a quote to everything you do from somebody, right, some other poet or writer, or whatever. So there’s a lot of, there is a lot of anger in your stuff. I’m not saying it’s not deserved, but there’s a lot of anger in your stuff. But none of that other stuff was banned. Just this particular one.

MARC STEINER: Well, no. There were- again, there was like three or so other posts over time that were removed.

MARC STEINER: And what were they? What Kind of things did they depict?

JESSE DUQUETTE: So the only one I can recall specifically, there was another one in which I showed him- and this is right around, I mean, I don’t know which of his bigot-enabling things happened. I don’t know. Maybe Charlottesville. Where he’s, like, it’s a side shot. He’s swimming in an ocean, but he’s anchored to a swastika-shaped anchor that’s dragging him down.

MARC STEINER: Oh, I saw that. Yes, yes. Right.

JESSE DUQUETTE: And I put that one back up immediately, because I still do completely agree wholeheartedly with what that cartoon was saying. So that one went back up. And I don’t remember specifically the other two what they were. But what I do remember was that it was- and I reposted them, whatever they were. But I do remember that it was extremely confounding to figure out what it was. They don’t tell you why, necessarily. But the drawings, the other ones that were taken down, didn’t have any even remotely offensive iconography. You know, I think probably, you know, some of my posts definitely have swears and curse words. I don’t think that these did. It was very difficult to ascertain what the reasoning was.

So I think to kind of color all of my feelings around this is that that there’s, that there’s not a lot of consistency. And there’s definitely not a lot of equanimity up with Instagram with how they choose to delineate who they’re banning and why.

MARC STEINER: Well, it’s been interesting. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. And folks, do check out the Daily Don. He’s got some very poignant cartoons, and you can have a good interaction with him, as we have had here today. And Jesse Duquette, thank you so much for taking your time with us here on The Real News today, and also keep on rolling. Thanks a lot.

JESSE DUQUETTE: Thanks a lot.

MARC STEINER: Good to have you. And folks, thank you all. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. We’ll be talking to you soon. Take care.