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Instagram apologises for removing images of Black British model

LONDON, Sept 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Instagram has apologised to a Black British plus-size model after she said its repeated removal of images showing her covering her breasts with her arms betrayed “racial biases” in its algorithm. Nyome Nicholas-Williams won the backing of high-profile campaigners including the actress Jameela Jamil and feminist activist Gina Martin for her campaign to have the images of her reinstated.

In an open letter to the company posted on her Instagram, @curvynyome on Thursday, she said the images were still being removed from the platform weeks after she received assurances the issue would be resolved.

Instagram apologised and said both its algorithm and human moderators had wrongly identified the images with breast-squeezing, which the platform bans because of its association with pornography.

It said it would update its policies to ensure that people with different body types were not treated unfairly.

“If you are white, rich, and conventionally sexually attractive, it seems you can post as you wish and what you wish,” said Nicholas-Williams in her letter, signed by 19 people including the transgender model Munroe Bergdorf.

“But if you are part of a marginalised group you are subject to the results of a biased algorithm.”

Recent concerns over racial bias in algorithms range from facial recognition misidentifying non-white people to students at schools with past poor performance and high proportions of ethnic minorities having exam results downgraded.

The model’s campaign, under the hashtag #IWantToSeeNyome, comes amid growing presure on companies to address alleged racist biases in their technologies in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests.

She said slimmer, white celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Emily Ratajkowsji, posted photos that showed more of their bodies and had not had them removed.

A spokeswoman for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it was updating its policies.

“We are committed to addressing any inequity on our platforms,” Tara Hopkins, head of Instagram public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in a statement.

“We expect to update Instagram and Facebook’s shared breast squeezing and covering policies next month, to make sure different body types aren’t treated unfairly.”

Gina Martin, who successfully campaigned for “upskirting” - covertly taking intimate photos of someone without their consent - to be criminalised in Britain, said Black women’s concerns over censorship must be heard.

"They are often hyper-sexualised far, far more than white women often are," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It's basically anti-racism conversations that need to be happening." (Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)

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