Respecting the feelings of others is vital when trying to achieve order in society. However, sometimes the limits to which we need to go seem a little far off.
In an effort to create a better experience for its users, Facebook has created a set of options and tools so that people can block or report content they believe is inappropriate. Through records and algorithms, the social network can block content before its published, or even if it hasn’t been reported, if they believe it could lead to someone finding it inappropriate or offensive.
This was a controversial topic in 2014 when the social media website blocked hundreds of pictures of mothers breastfeeding their children for the #FreeTheNipple movement. This act of rebellion was in fact created because of the mass amount of pictures that were being blocked. Both participants and organizers of the movement argued that breastfeeding is not equal to porn, and they have a point.
The art community has not been excempt of these measured. Several painters and illustrators have lost access to their social media accounts for loading content deemed as “sexually explicit” on their profiles or pages. Several of them were fully aware that their immediate suspension was due to algorithms that block content. So, they decided to do something in favor of free expression. In May 2013 a group of French artists, lead by photographer Alain Bachellier, created the web community that promoted “Nude Day on Facebook”, where they invited thousands of people across the world to share images of nudes. This resulted in several personal accounts being shut down.
Thousands of art pieces and photographs have been prey to this censorship, some in the most absurd way, such as the famous photograph of the girl on fire in the Vietnam War and another featuring the statue of Neptune in Bologna, Italy. How can any of these be considered pornographic in nature?
After the declarations made during the day of the nudes, it’s clear that censorship is not just charged to algorithms and records. There’s an entire team probably in charge of deciding what is appropriate and what is not.
Another story included a pictured taken by Alain Laboile, who captured his two children sharing a kiss. But this time it was users who deemed the image as inappropriate because it was a kiss on the lips between children who happened to be siblings.
It also appears that Facebook has something against demonstrations of love between parents and their children. When Heather Whitten had a fever, her father held her under the shower head for a few hours to help with her discomfort. The photographer captured this moment, but when it was uploaded, the picture was immediately blocked. It was only after a mass campaign that the photo returned to their photo album.
After censoring images promoting the exhibit of Gustave Courbet’s "Origin of the World," a court was ruled as competent to judge Facebook for violating its users’ freedom of speech. One of the eliminated accounts belonged to an art history teacher who was inviting other people to see the exhibit.
This lawsuit opened up the censorship debate, not just on Facebook, but on any medium. Because it’s not just nudes that are blocked; the censorship reaches even including demonstration of affection between same sex couples. When an LGBT rights organization, Association for Visible Culture, needed financing for a documentary, they posted an image of two men kissing. Pablo Peinado then received an email notifying him that he was infringing Facebook regulations. This was taken to court, and the company reversed its decision.
In 2013 Antonio Centeno filmed the documentary Yes, we fuck!, where people with special abilities talked about and explored their sexuality, proving social stigmas wrong. When the censorship happened, the director chose not to proceed with the lawsuit, not because of lack of interest, but because he figured Facebook’s policies would probably not change.
Translated by María Suárez