Get 6 Months of ShootQ Free With Any Workshop Purchase!

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds
News & Insight

Instagram Targets Joey L; Once Again Trying to Censor Real Life?

By Kishore Sawh on September 17th 2015


There’s nothing wrong with taking a pretty picture or just of a pretty subject; heck, I’m a fan. But there’s something to be said for the taking of some sort of social responsibility or calling with our photography, to do what photography does so well – to document. I neither have the time nor inclination to bore you to death at the moment on the decisive and impactful role photography has played in history, but suffice to say the role isn’t a meager one.

Most of you are likely acquainted with Joey L, the rather accomplished photographer, even if just in passing, and only a few months ago Joey took it upon himself for his own reasons, to go to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Syria,

I set out to uncover the truth, or at least to better understand the nuances behind the headlines….Portrait photography has a strange way of humanizing even the most distant of situations, and that was my goal with this project.


With the Syrian crisis gobbling headlines and column inches the world over for the past few years (and certainly in what seems like a climax now with the massive displacement of Syrian people, now refugees seeking basic human rights and compassion), any better understanding of the region, its history and its people, you would think would be welcomed. Seeking this for himself and sharing his findings and opinions with others through recounts of his experiences and his imagery, Joey L has clearly been rubbing some the wrong way. Instagram being one.


Instagram is no stranger when it comes to issues of censorship, having pulled images and accounts of people for posting what it feels is against its guidelines (almost entirely at the discretion of whoever is doing the audit), has now pulled some of Joey L.’s photos of the PKK, and he’s not pleased. Would you be? Interesting to note here that images of another group, the YPG (People’s Protection Units), were not taken down since it’s not considered a terrorist group.

[REWIND: ‘What Portable Flash Kit Should I Buy? | With Joey L.]

The problem, it seems, is that the images he posts depict what is considered by some to be a terrorist group. So it’s not a matter of gore or distaste, but rather a matter of politics. The deletion of the images seems to have stemmed from numerous complaints and reports from IG users, though this complaining was also accompanied by death threats and gruesome spamming of his social media accounts.

One of the photos that was taken down was put back up by Joey, in a manner of speaking. He posed with a large print of it, ironically to be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery Of London this year. Instagram, it seems, is more discerning? Maybe not.

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


Instagram feels that the posting of such images is a show of support for groups deemed terrorist groups, but that begs the big question – when you photograph something, does it that mean you support it?

This is the crux, I believe, of the argument. Since when does photographing someone, or something, suggest an affiliation in any form, much less support to that subject? What does that say then for the idea behind news reporting and photojournalism? Instagram is a major force in photography today, encouraging the documenting of real life as it happens, even filtered, yet seems to feel certain images like these do not substantiate photojournalism, but rather support and propaganda.


What does this mean for Instagram in the future? Joey L. has been vocal about his experience as you can see from these snippets of is Twitter and Instsgram, but what about those with less of a voice? Are you to be drowned by the larger footprint of Instagram?

You can see a breakdown of Instagram’s guidelines here, and Joey’s Instagram here

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Walid Isar

    You can upload any kind of almost-pornographic images to instagram and call it “workout session” (showing barely naked butts and tits). That’s all fine until you post your artistic photographs!

    | |
  2. Paul Empson

    Social Media: “It’s not a place for forming political protest.” I think many (ALL) political and self interested parties and people use SM for that very reason..

    One persons terrorist is another persons freedom fighter…

    The photos, appear non-controversial.. however maybe he’d have been better posting them to a media outlet rather than a photo sharing site..

    Maybe he could create blank photos and place them on Instagram stating censorship and a link to the site where they can be found… or he could leave the site..

    As for the events of the region… no single or simple solution.. however Turkey bombing PKK is not the answer.. neither is: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan he will only bring more division and bloodshed to Turkey..

    If the Kurds want their own autonomous region they should do it by ballot box and democratic means and learn to live with the result…

    | |
  3. Paul Blacklock

    from instagram main page. Capture and Share the World’s Moments
    Instagram is a free and simple way to share your life and keep up with other people.

    it is Censorship pure and simple. so many defenders of these mega corporations who will decide on religion, politics, sex, way of life, etc to promote their social and financial goals. they can push and shove their views on the internet but if you don’t follow their lead, you are eliminated without much recourse.

    democracy at its best. then we have the ball to talk against russia and other dictatorship countries.

    | |
  4. Steve VanSickle

    While it’s certainly their right to take down photos as they wish, I’m disappointed in Instagram none the less. Nobody forced Joey to use the service, and they’re a social network, but unless Joey was advertising the group’s agenda, I think it’s good to be able to humanize “the other side”.

    | |
  5. Aidan Morgan

    Because social media networks such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. are “free,” we tend to think of them as public spaces. This serves as a reminder that we use those services at the networks’ behest, not ours. Instagram is free to remove any photos it likes, but the ongoing confusion between public and private spaces online (is there a public space online?) is only going to get weirder and more contentious.

    | |
  6. Alexander Europa

    His photos are simply incredible! Not much to say about Instagram’s policy, they’re a public company and have the right to choose what is hosted on their site. I’d say that it might affect their company, but most people that use it are too clueless to know anything about this, much less care.

    | |
    • Kyle Stauffer

      I’m not trying to start another firestorm with this question… it is simply an honest question of perspective.

      Does a public company such as Instagram denying photo’s depicting something it disagrees with or doesn’t want to condone differ from a photographer denying photographing clients doing something that the photographer disagrees with or does not want to condone?

      I agree with the Instagrams freedom to deny. I disagree however with their decision in this situation as it seems that these people are the majority currently fighting this evil and it’s genocide that it seems so many are downplaying. Joey brought light to how serious the situation is.


      | |
    • Anders Madsen

      Kyle, in Europe the seriousness of the situation is definitely not underestimated, but you need to understand that the situation is very much like it was in another country some decades ago.

      Here a ruthless, brutal non-local leadership was being fought by a determined local guerilla group who – even though often hopelessly outnumbered – would leave the battlefield victorious because death for the many was an accepted outcome as long as it meant victory for the few.

      Eventually the local, US-supported guerillas won the war and took over the leadership of the country. And, as it turned out, the locals went from the ashes into the fire, as Taleban moved Afghanistan back around 400 years and turned brutality and suppression up quite a few notches from the standard set by the russian forces.

      It is in this historical context that the PKK and their fight against ISIS needs to be evaluated. Yes, they are definitely fighting a enemy more ruthless, brutal and sadistic than anything this world knows at the moment, but what are they themselves? This is the brief description that the Wall Street Journal gives in an article about the PKK, their history and current political agenda:

      “The PKK and affiliates have car-bombed Turkish cities, kidnapped hundreds and killed Turkish and Kurdish state employees. In 2009, the U.S. Treasury Department designated their leadership as significant narcotics traffickers. The PKK ruthlessly dispatches Kurdish political rivals in Syria and elsewhere, according to New York based Human Rights Watch.”


      “The PKK practices an offshoot of Marxism it calls Democratic Confederalism. The group’s utopian goals echo those of some Cold War-era leftist militias. It aims to create a Maoist-inspired agrarian society that opposes landowning classes, espouses gender equality and distances itself from religion. Its guerrillas speak of a leaderless society of equals but also glorify Mr. Ocalan with fanatical devotion. They talk of needing to inculcate Kurdish populations with their ideology, rigidly centralized around Mr. Ocalan’s writings.”

      I’m getting way off-topic with regards to the removal of Joey L’s portraits here, but the excerpts above are necessary readings when evaluating the reasoning behind calling PKK for terrorists and subsequently deciding to remove portraits that could be seen as supporting their cause.

      And, by the way, if you watch Joeys video about the trip to Syria, you will see that he actually sympathize with the PKK and think they are fighting a worthy cause. And they do, don’t get me wrong – the ISIS is a horror to the world and must be dealt with. However, fighting the devil does not make you an angel, and I think that Joey may have missed that part a bit.

      Oh, and as for the part about trying to link this to photographers not wanting to photograph gay marriages? – don’t go there.

      | |
    • Kyle Stauffer

      I don’t know enough history of the PKK to comment on that. I would have to go well beyond the WSJ before making any certain accusations about anything. I only know of the present events .

      Is “Don’t go there” an attempted censorship in the name of progressivism? I was rather silent in the earlier debates on the matter and is why I said I don’t want to start a firestorm. I wonder how many of the same voices of “it’s their right to take down the photo’s” would be outraged if they took down photo’s of a homosexual wedding and demand a lawsuit.

      The question of perspective was not to debate morals or religious belief, rather the law, how it’s interpreted and if it’s interpretation is consistent. I’m an American so this may be a very apples/oranges conversation with a European.

      | |
    • Anders Madsen

      Kyle, no censorship intended in any way – I just honestly believe the two things to be so different that trying to link them would probably create the heated discussion you wanted to avoid.

      As for using the WSJ article as the only source, you’re right – that would be far too shaky a foundation for a debate.

      However, Syria is an extremely hot topic in Europe right now because of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that currently floods across the EU borders, and the PKK role in the fight against ISIS has been very well covered in the local press already. The WSJ article was just the best summary in English that I came across while looking for a way to explain the probable reason for Instagram’s actions.

      As for correlating this with U.S. law, you’re right – that is way out of my league. :)

      | |
  7. Anders Madsen

    Joey L handled a two-edged sword and cut himself in the process.

    While many praise PKK for their fight against ISIS, a large number hates them for their attacks on Turkish authorities over the last 35 years or so. Posting images that can be seen as depicting PKK members in a heroic way of any kind is bound to ruffle feathers big time.

    Given the fact that especially ISIS has been very adept indeed in using social media in their propaganda and recruitment, I think that the Instagram guidelines are reasonable, and – given that some definitely sees PKK as a terrorist group – the removal of these images were justified.

    Joey L only experienced one side of the sword (those fighting ISIS) and that is probably why he has a hard time understanding this.

    Also, there is a clear difference between documenting a war and making portraits of the participants in my view, so anyone talking about freedom of the press or similar, are barking up the wrong tree in my opinion.

    | |
  8. Max C

    Nobody is forcing him to post those photos on Instagram. He can post the photos on his own website. Instagram is a free website and they can approve or deny any photo.

    | |
  9. Ben Perrin

    I’m sure it was just taken out of context. Usually the case with these sort of things. If the images are part of a series then common sense would dictate that they should stay up. Unfortunately common sense rarely prevails when 1000’s of images per day need to be censored and time is not a luxury these admins have. It’s easier for instagram to implement a blanket policy rather than using common sense and context. Just the world we live in.

    | |
  10. Dustin Baugh

    Instagram isn’t a journalistic photography site, they seem to have a policy against posting pictures of groups listed as terrorists and are simply following it to the letter. Even though it’s made up of pictures you need to remember instagram is a social media site, not a photography or journalism site. It’s not a place for forming political protest.

    If this were the New York Times, or NatGeo I would be angry but it’s Instagram. They know their money comes from pics of food, kitties, and selfies. They’re not going to even dip their toe into being a force for political change if it risks hurting their user base’s delicate sensibilities. Joey L would be better sending his pictures to Time/Life, if they censor him he would be rightly outraged.

    Even though I disagree with their policy I think this a perfect example of a for-profit company exercising their rights to do what they want to do with their site.

    | |