Posts about missing and murdered Indigenous people disappeared from Instagram. The company says it was a mistake.

Red shirts hang in front of the capitol building
Women carry red dresses to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People during the Women’s March in 2019 in Juneau. (Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

The morning after Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, Iñupiaq advocate Jacquii Lambert noticed half of the stories she’d shared on Instagram about the day had disappeared.

Lambert immediately tweeted about it because it was so odd.

“I thought it was just me, I thought it was some kind of glitch. But then I went to go look at other people I know who have also shared onto their stories, the same thing was happening for them,” Lambert said.

On Wednesday, people all across the country shared stories and pictures to memorialize thousands of Indigenous people who have disappeared. Now, many Instagram users reported that content they shared to their stories disappeared, too. 

One account whose posts were deleted from Instagram Stories was Jordan Daniel’s account Rising Hearts.

Daniel, who refers to the movement as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relations, is Lakota and a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

When she posted on her Instagram that her stories had been deleted, hundreds of people commented with similar experiences.

“It feels like a never-ending hamster wheel. When you’re trying so hard and you know the community is trying so hard, and to have this one day be taken away was just heartbreaking,” Daniel said.

This is not the first time the company has been accused of targeting Indigenous voices. Earlier this year, Indigenous beading accounts were being deactivated without explanation.

Daniel said social media is one of the greatest tools for Indigenous advocacy — such as in the case of the Standing Rock protests.

RELATED: Alaskans travel to North Dakota to stand with Standing Rock

“But it’s also a double-edged sword because we are advocating for justice so we have to talk about the injustice,” Daniel said. “We have to talk about all of the problems that have created these systems of oppression. We have to talk about colonization. We have to talk about white supremacy and racism. And so that’s when censorship comes in. That’s where erasure comes in.”

To Lambert, there was a certain irony to these specific stories disappearing.

“It just felt weird, that we’re talking about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and then all of our content to raise awareness goes missing,” Lambert said.

Many Indigenous Instagram users tagged Instagram’s social media accounts to call them out on taking down MMIP content. Later that day, Instagram tweeted a response, saying there was a widespread issue with Instagram Stories that was unrelated to any particular topic.

In other words, no one was being targeted.

But Daniel thinks the company’s response does not explain why so many stories specifically about Missing and Murdered Indigenous people were taken down.

“I just find that really odd, especially when it’s a lot of the content that only addressed [Missing and Murdered Indigenous people] stuff,” Daniel said. “That even allies who are not Indigenous, all of their posts that had nothing to do with this advocacy remained, but anything that had to do with advocacy and awareness for [Missing and Murdered Indigenous people] was removed.”

Regardless of whether Instagram’s removal of the posts was intentional or not, the effects of the removal remained.

Daniel described being put into emergency-response mode, trying to re-do all the work that was done the day before and re-share everything that was taken down.

All of this confusion was happening just as another Alaska Native woman had been found dead. Her ex-boyfriend has been arrested. 

Jerilyn Nicholson was discovered dead at Eklutna Lake near Anchorage about a week ago.

“It’s still fresh, especially for Alaskans, you know,” Lambert said. “We are facing a tragedy right now.”

On Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, Lambert felt a sense of solidarity and healing with the Indigenous community who experienced this loss.

But the next day when all the stories she shared were gone, Lambert said she realized, “They do see us and they do know us, but they’re silencing us.”

Late Friday, Instagram tweeted that they had identified and fixed the problem. The company’s communication account lays out that several communities were affected and that it wasn’t just Indigenous content creators who were having problems.

And they apologized, saying: “We are so sorry this happened. Especially to those in Colombia, East Jerusalem and Indigenous communities who felt this was an intentional suppression of their voices and stories.”

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