We all know social media censorship standards are arbitrary. I mean, you can be censored by an artistic nude photo or illustration, while photographs of graphic violence are widely shared without any consequence. Just think about the #FreetTheNipple movement. They expose the double standards of SM’s censorship guidelines regarding nipples. The movement raised the question of how female nipples are automatically banned and erased while male nips aren’t. So, what’s really the reason behind them? In an event in 2015, Kevin Systrom, co-founder and CEO of Instagram stated that one reason behind it is that Apple has very strict censorship guidelines they have to follow so they can still provide the app. Now, he also claimed that for them to not censor adult content, they should make it a 17+ app, but obviously they want to reach a wider audience. Now, it may sound logical at some point but, again, what it’s upsetting is the arbitrary way in which the censorship is done.
Earlier this year, the artists Molly Soda and Arvida Byström published a book called Pics or It Didn’t Happen: Images Banned From Instagram in which they compiled the several (seriously, way too many) photographs banned from the app. They asked their followers and friends on Instagram to send them those photos that social media had censored, either because of their content or actually for any random reason. Out of the approximately 1,000 photos they received, they selected one quarter to feature in the book. But what do they want to convey with this?
The point of the book was to question the censorship policies of this particular app that, on the one hand, encourages creativity, freedom of speech, and the arts, while on the other restricts some of the content displayed. It becomes a contradiction where there’s no clarity towards who or what decides what stays and what doesn’t. Is it an algorithm that detects certain content and that’s why it can’t discern properly the kind of content? Or is it moderated by people based on their own perspectives and judgment? For Soda, it’s the latter, and the problem here is that since the platform started to gain popularity in the artistic circles, now being censored becomes an attempt against the artistic freedom they seek.
Now, another thing to bear in mind, and that both artists are noting, is the fact that these so-called “guidelines,” created for the safety of the user, more than taking care of the content displayed are actually reinforcing dangerous and outdated stigmas towards the female body. At the end of the day, what this project shows is that this isn’t only an issue of Instagram or social media but a social problem we’ve been carrying for centuries. Despite our huge advancement in many fields, we still haven’t realized how these attitudes have and continue damaging the perspective on the female body.
Instagram policies forbid anything related to violence, nudity, pornography, sexual hints, discrimination, illegal issues, hatred, among others. So it’s not really that censorship is a problem. I mean we can understand that these are subjects that could be problematic for some people. The issue is how and what exactly is being banned. For instance, among the photographs women sent for the project, there’s one that literally has nothing sexual, violent, illegal, or censurable at all. The photo you’re seeing right above is the one I’m talking about. Can you tell me what’s the issue with a woman wearing a hijab and a pair of glasses? Where’s the offense? I get that some of the pictures you’ve been seeing might have sexual content, but take a close look at the other ones. Why is body hair such an offense? Is it because it goes against normalized beauty standards?
It's not the sex per se, but the sexualization of the female body. In the photo below, you have a girl taking a selfie in the bathroom exposing her granny panties. How many photos have you seen on Instagram of women in their sexy lingerie in highly suggestive poses? Probably thousands, if not more. So why was this photo, that doesn’t show anything graphic nor an “offensive” behavior, banned from the app? The most logical and not at all soothing answer to that question is that it doesn’t show the body as it’s expected as an object to contemplate, which honestly, it’s nonsense. So, where’s the line between needed safety measures and arbitrary decisions? When will we stop acting so immaturely? Perhaps we do need more projects like this becoming mainstream to understand our double standards.
If you want to see more of these artists' work, go visit their Instagram accounts (although many of the pictures might have been already taken down) or take a look at their book:
Molly Soda: @bloatedandalone4evr1993
Arvida Byström: @arvidabystrom
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