Jim Heffelfinger does not appear to be a danger to society. Sure, his dad’s occasional jokes are top-notch jokes, and his obsession with the zany Arizona girl seems a bit extreme. But Heffelfinger, a research biologist with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish and one of the most popular deer researchers in the profession, was removed from Instagram because… well, he still doesn’t know.
Earlier this summer, Heffelfinger’s private Instagram account, @jim.deere, was suspended without warning. An automated message indicated that the suspension would last for 30 days, but after several weeks the message indicated that the account had been permanently removed from the platform. Heffelfinger still has no idea why he was kicked out of Instagram.
“I was getting over 4,000 followers, so it wasn’t like I was a huge influencer,” he says. “And there wasn’t anything political or even a little blunt about the content. My stuff has always been wildlife information—hey, I’m at a conference talking about changes to the North American model [of wildlife conservation]. Or here’s a perspective on mule deer conservation. It was all vanilla, benign stuff. Some really cool science about antler periosteum and research by the Chinese followed by a stupid meme followed by my observation that cats smell like popcorn followed by the latest research on CWD. Then a picture of me hunting with my kids.”
Heffelfinger says the only potentially problematic posts he can imagine are POV videos of him in handgun competitions. Heffelfinger shoots a Dan Wesson 1911 in .45 ACP and competes in Practical Pistol matches, often filming himself his fiery track and posting clips to his Instagram account. Have AI platforms flagged his videos as violent content?
“Most targets have a headbox,” he says. “It is possible that some AI filters have detected the human figure in the background and the gun is exploding and flagged my account as inciting violence. But I am not the only one posting this kind of content. My feed is full of competitive shooting videos [from other accounts]Literally thousands of people are posting this specific type of content. I don’t know why I’d be alone for that.”
Here is a screenshot of Heffelfinger’s last post before his account was deleted.
Read Heffelfinger’s comment: Last weekend, we honored a friend’s life with Ray Kondo Memorial Outlaw Match. “Outlaw” refers to the fact that this handgun match did not comply with the official rules of the USPSA or IDPA. This word is ironic since Ray spent 22 years with the US Marshal Service and was involved in the capture of the 15 best federal fugitive, serial killer and some other high profile cases. Ray is included in a handful of people I know who are top notch when it comes to integrity, hard work, smiles, and being an overall great human being. He was a specific advisor to the TV show “Justified” which portrayed the American Field Marshal and also starred with Chuck Norris in an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” and played the U.S. Marshal throughout that episode (the man who was arrested in the end was the actor who played Mike in Breaking Bad). A sniper shot him in the leg in Costa Rica during his fugitive arrest and returned to work that afternoon complaining that he had spoiled a good expensive pair of pants. Ray Badass Ray was making the world better. I miss Ray. #BadAss #1911 #USMarshalService
The only possible explanation is that the Heffelfinger account was flagged for possible copyright infringement because it was using an altered John Deere logo. But this seems like an extension since there are many other accounts using the same famous logo.
Heffelfinger’s biggest concern is Instagram’s lack of response.
“I literally sent them letters every day to challenge the decision, and never got a response,” he says. “It makes you feel helpless. First of all, they have algorithms that feed you what they think you want to see and what they think you’re going to deal with. Then they hide things from your feed. They censor comments that their AI bots think might be a problem. Then they turn someone away. Like me. There is no recourse. It is a private company and is not obligated to respond. So at some point, you just need to go on with your life and get a new account.”
In the case of Heffelfinger, this new account is @cervidnut. He’s spent the past weeks adding archived posts so followers interested in deer, wildlife conservation, and a random dad joke can engage with his content.
The Instagram Community Guidelines don’t offer much of an explanation either. Here are some excerpts from the few sections where the platform deals with firearms and violence:
- Instagram is not a place to support or praise terrorism, organized crime or hate groups. The provision of sexual services, the purchase or sale of firearms, alcohol and tobacco products between individuals, and the purchase or sale of non-medical or pharmaceutical drugs are also not permitted.”
- “We understand that many people use Instagram to share important and newsworthy events. Some of these issues can involve graphic images. Since many different people and age groups use Instagram, we may remove videos that contain extreme violence and an image to make sure Instagram stays put. suitable for all.”
The platform also states: “Instagram only removes accounts and posts that don’t follow our guidelines and terms. It’s important to remember that Instagram does not mediate disputes between people using our service.”
None of this is very useful for Heffelfinger, who does not appear to have violated any guidelines. In his role as a senior biologist at a government agency, he says there are high expectations for transparency and adherence to procedures. This seems to be completely missing from Instagram.
“There are no longer responsible people,” he says. “Don’t try to contact anyone. It’s like a black hole.”