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Images of Kurdish PKK Fighters by @joeyldotcom Removed by Instagram

I'm sure there are plenty of instances where Instagram were completely warranted in their decision to remove a photograph, but those aren't the ones we end up hearing about. Their recent backlashes against nipple censoring and the #curvy hashtag have brought them nothing but scorn, but this new chapter in the tale unearths an interesting question - does sharing images of supposed terrorist groups (or any extremists) count as support, or mere documentation?

The story that frames this question goes like this: in June a photographer named Joey L. made the risky, difficult trip over to Kurdistan in order to photograph members of the PKK, otherwise known as the Kurdish Worker's Party. They have been embroiled in a violent civil rights movement against Turkey for more than 30 years and now many of them are making their way across to Syria to fight in the war. These photos have been routinely reported and removed from Joey's Instagram page. They don't show any violent or explicit content, but the PKK is regarded to be a terrorist organisation.

In a bitterly ironic twist, the people who reported the photos would continually spam Joey's social media pages with threats of violence and death, as well as images of dead people. All of these things seem like far more severe terms of use violations than anything Joey himself has posted. He responded by posting one of the images again, this time as a print held in his hands, a print which will soon feature in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

I am very honored to share this portrait of Sarya, which will be featured in London's National Portrait Gallery during the Taylor Wessing Exhibition later this autumn. This is the same image that was reported multiple times on my feed, and then removed by Instagram for breaching community guidelines. @instagram has the right to remove whatever they want, and quite frankly I don't expect them to determine who is a "terrorist" and who is not. However, I do wonder about those who reported the photo. I wonder if those same people will take a moment to compare what independent journalists are saying about the situation in Cizre VS their state-owned media in Turkey? I also wonder if I photographed an Al-Nusra fighter in a similar way, would that fall under the realm of their interpretation of free speech? Photography should be a conversation starter of intense dialogue and debate, but never silence. Silence is for cowards.
A photo posted by Joey L. (@joeyldotcom) on

Some of Joey's other images for the project were of a different fighting group, the YPG. Those stayed up, since the YPG isn't registered as any kind of terrorist organisation. Regardless of what your views might be on the PKK, is it really warranted on Instagram's part to take down images of them? It's not any kind of news platform, granted, but it's difficult to imagine any reality where images of members posing, with guns or otherwise, would result in increased recruitment.

In his bio on Instagram's 'about us' page, co-founder Mike Krieger (no relation) is said to have wanted to make things which "bring out the creativity in all of us". Photojournalism and documentary photography are extremely creative and vital practises. In a responding statement to this incident, Instagram reiterated that they do not allow the support of terrorist groups, seemingly unwilling to actually debate whether or not that's what this actually is.

The PKK's position as a terrorist organisation is debatable. Most of their motivations are humanitarian, and much of the violent acts linked to them have been self-defensive or retaliatory. In the 70s and 80s they were responsible for the deaths and injuries of thousands of Turkish civilians through indiscriminate bombing, which is what earned them the classification, but they are a very, very different group now to what they were then. Kurdistan is, in fact, generally one of the safest parts of Iraq. Even if that weren't the case, if the PKK were still a highly dangerous group who continued to bomb civilian settlements, that would not be a mandate for censorship.

We, as a society, need the most tumultuous parts of the world to be photographically documented in order for their impact and historical relevance to retain its gravitas. Granted, there are places other than Instagram where images like these can be shared freely, but finding the widest platforms is paramount. Under the rules they are imposing, the iconic images of the Vietnam war, the race riots of the 1970s, the Arab Spring and even the Second World War would have been blocked. Instagram, nor anyone else, do not get to choose what constitutes legitimate photographic art and what does not

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Images of Kurdish PKK Fighters by @joeyldotcom Removed by Instagram Reviewed by Unknown on Friday, September 18, 2015 Rating: 5

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