Addie Wageknecht: Hey, every­one. What’s up? I’m Addie Wageknecht. I found­ed a group called Deep Lab, and this is…

Jillian York: I’m Jillian York, and I’m a mem­ber of Deep Lab and also the Director for International Freedom of Expression at EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 

So, what we’re talk­ing about today is how social media, and specif­i­cal­ly Facebook because we’ve found that they have the strictest poli­cies around this top­ic, how these social media com­pa­nies cen­sor art, and specif­i­cal­ly nude art. We believe that nude art is an impor­tant part of our cul­ture, an impor­tant part of our his­to­ry, and an impor­tant part of our present.

So, this piece, just as an exam­ple, is some­thing that I suc­cess­ful­ly post­ed on Facebook just a few days ago. Now, of course because this is Venus de Milo, this is a famous sculp­ture accept­ed through­out the world as high art. Therefore, Facebook thinks that it’s okay for you to post this.

Evelyne Axell, Ice Cream”

Wageknecht: So, a good counter-example of this is a piece that was pub­lished on February 2016 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s a piece that was on exhi­bi­tion dur­ing a Pop Art exhi­bi­tion and ret­ro­spec­tive. This piece was banned and delet­ed off of Facebook, they said due to the exces­sive amount of skin.”

York: So, we found that that was a paint­ing that was too sexy for Facebook, but…

Wageknecht: So, this is anoth­er one again, just to give you an exam­ple of what’s being blocked. This is from the Centre Pompidou. They had a ret­ro­spec­tive of this female pho­tog­ra­ph­er. And because the nip­ples were shown, the piece was removed, as well as the com­mu­ni­ty. It was actu­al­ly the sec­ond time the muse­um has had a ban. And they left a note after they were re-released in the com­mu­ni­ty after twenty-four hours that they said, We will not pub­lish nudes in the future.” 

We remove pho­tographs of peo­ple dis­play­ing gen­i­tals or focus­ing in on ful­ly exposed but­tocks. We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nip­ple, but we always allow pho­tos of women active­ly engaged in breast­feed­ing or show­ing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.
Facebook Community Standards [pre­sen­ta­tion slide]

York: So, what is a nude, and what is a n00d? Well, Facebook says that they remove pho­tographs of peo­ple dis­play­ing gen­i­tals or focus­ing in on ful­ly exposed but­tocks. They also restrict some images of female breasts, if they include the nip­ple. But, they say we always allow pho­tos of women active­ly engaged in breast­feed­ing or show­ing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.

Okay. So they’ve laid out the rules clear­ly, and they told us what we can and we can­not post. Except…they’re lying. Because here is an image by a tat­too artist, Amy Black.

The tat­too and the pho­to­graph are both by her. Now, Amy Black, she’s incred­i­ble. She does tat­toos for women who’ve had mas­tec­tomies. So, she’ll do what­ev­er you like. I’ve seen one that’s a beau­ti­ful grapevine cross­ing where the scars were, and across them and around them. But this is a pho­to­re­al­is­tic tat­too of a nip­ple that she did for a woman who’d had a mas­tec­to­my. Amy Black has found that her con­tent is reg­u­lar­ly tak­en down from Facebook. Other com­mu­ni­ties, as well her, that post it have received bans from the web site from twenty-four hours to thir­ty days, depend­ing on the con­tent that they post and how many pre­vi­ous offens­es they’ve had.

And I’ll get to the bans a lit­tle bit lat­er, because there’s some more inter­est­ing things there, but I think that this is a real­ly good exam­ple of how the rules don’t real­ly actu­al­ly mat­ter, even after they’ve been spelled out.

From Breastfeeding” series, by Jane Beall

Wageknecht: So, again this is anoth­er exam­ple of a pho­tog­ra­ph­er who did a project and want­ed to start a com­mu­ni­ty for women to accept their bod­ies post-pregnancy and post-partum. It was specif­i­cal­ly around breast­feed­ing and the act of breast­feed­ing. She estab­lished this com­mu­ni­ty. It received mul­ti­ple hate mails from peo­ple with­in the com­mu­ni­ty, and was ulti­mate­ly tak­en down by Facebook as a whole.

Another sim­i­lar exam­ple is an artist named Petra Collins, who works pri­mar­i­ly on Instagram. She had images removed that were not of rape or vio­lence or hate, but rather pubic hair, because she showed a pic­ture of her­self in a biki­ni where she had­n’t prop­er­ly waxed, and they took this down.

What’s inter­est­ing to think about is kind of the con­trast and the dichoto­my that you look at when you see peo­ple like for exam­ple Justin Bieber, who’s a major movie— Well, not movie star…

York: Singer.

Wageknecht: Singer…? In the States.

York: We know who he is.

Wageknecht: That guy. So, he did a cam­paign for Calvin Klein. The ads were put all over New York City, major bill­boards, online, but with the dif­fer­ence that they actu­al­ly Photoshopped the pubic hair in. So, again it comes down to this rela­tion­ship women have with their bod­ies and what is con­sid­ered accept­able or not accept­able, based off of these cor­po­rate cen­sor­ship rules and norms.

York: And these rules cer­tain­ly affect women dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly, as well as trans­gen­der peo­ple, and oth­er peo­ple who fit out­side of the gen­der norm, because Facebook decides based on what the breast looks like, not who it actu­al­ly belongs to. And so we’ve seen exam­ples where trans men and trans women have had pho­tos tak­en down. We’ve even seen exam­ples where pros­thet­ic nip­ples that looked real enough got a pho­to tak­en down.

Now this is a real­ly fan­tas­tic cam­paign. It was for Pink Ribbon Germany, and it was called Check It Before It’s Removed, which just in case any­one did­n’t catch that, they’re talk­ing about both check­ing your breasts for a lumps and for pos­si­ble can­cer, but also before it’s removed from social media. 

So, they put this up there inten­tion­al­ly, designed these pho­tos that fit per­fect­ly on your Facebook wall or Twitter, and encour­aged peo­ple to actu­al­ly break the rules. And what hap­pened was that I post­ed this very image to Facebook, and because it was my sec­ond offense,” I was banned for twenty-four hours from the site.

Now, let me tell you what that’s like, because we’ve spo­ken to the media quite a bit the last cou­ple days, and I made the mis­take of read­ing the com­ments. And one of the things that I found was that I don’t under­stand Facebook. It’s not the Internet. It does­n’t real­ly mat­ter. You can go some­where else.

But what I found when I was banned was not only that I could­n’t post to Facebook or send mes­sages to my con­tacts, which might seem fair­ly insignif­i­cant. I also could­n’t admin­is­ter pages that I run for my job. I could­n’t use Spotify, which I pay for. I could­n’t use Tinder. I could­n’t com­ment on the Huffington Post, which uses Facebook’s com­ments. And so an entire world was cut off for me, not just my Facebook network.

Now, for me it was only twenty-four hours, but I run a project called onlinecen​sor​ship​.org (and if you’re ever cen­sored, please come to us), and we col­lect reports from indi­vid­u­als who have expe­ri­enced take­downs or account deac­ti­va­tions on social net­works. And from those reports, we’ve learned that these bans can extend to thir­ty days, and that they can be issued repeatedly.

And so while sup­port for ter­ror­ism might get your account tak­en down imme­di­ate­ly, vio­lat­ing the rules against nudi­ty seems to result in ban after ban after ban. And so peo­ple who reg­u­lar­ly break this rule will find them­selves cut off for thir­ty days at a time just over and over again, indef­i­nite­ly. There’s no reset button.

From peri­od.” series, by Rupi Kaur

Wageknecht: So, this is anoth­er exam­ple of an artist and a project that was actu­al­ly removed from Instagram. Again, Instagram is owned by Facebook. So, she was look­ing at how you demys­ti­fy a peri­od. Fifty per­cent of the world expe­ri­ence this. We have dates and wed­dings and vaca­tions that we work around these things, but it’s noth­ing that any­one real­ly talks about. So again, it’s a ful­ly clothed woman. But because of some­thing in the image, the entire image was removed as well as her account.

York: And Instagram is owned by Facebook, and one of the oth­er things that I’ve seen through my work and over the years is that dif­fer­ent bod­ies are treat­ed in dif­fer­ent ways. Many peo­ple post their biki­ni shots on Instagram, but some of the con­tent that I’ve seen tak­en down has been larg­er women wear­ing biki­nis. So, they’ll have their pho­tos tak­en down, but skin­ny women will not. There’s quite a bias there.

Now, Facebook also says that they allow pho­tographs of paint­ings, sculp­tures, and oth­er art that depicts nude fig­ures. As we saw, the Venus de Milo…perfectly fine…high art…classic…everyone knows what it is. But what hap­pens when you post lesser-known art?

Anyone rec­og­nize this per­son? I’m guess­ing if you’re American or maybe over thir­ty? So, this is Bea Arthur. She starred in a TV show called The Golden Girls. She also had a won­der­ful career before that, but this is about that era. This is a nude paint­ing from 1991 called Nude Bea Arthur” by John Currin. And this was my first offense. So, last fall at Netzpolitik Konference, I give a talk just after this had hap­pened. I post­ed this image, and I asked my friends to please report on me. Because the way that Facebook works is that it encour­ages you to snitch on your friends. So, I asked my friends to do this, they report­ed it, and the result was that the pho­to was tak­en down. I was­n’t banned for any peri­od of time, but the pho­to was gone and I could­n’t repost it. I was able to suc­cess­ful­ly appeal that deci­sion, but it still count­ed against me as an offense.

Wageknecht: So, Facebook has approx­i­mate­ly 1.4 bil­lion users. And when you think about this in the con­text of coun­tries or states, they typ­i­cal­ly also have more pow­er and social cap­i­tal than any coun­try or king or state or any­thing in the world.

So, this is a project I did in 2012, 2013, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with some­one named Pablo Garcia, who is an artist and pro­fes­sor out of the School of Art in Chicago. How many do you have been to porn sites? 


York: Oh, nobody wants to raise their hand.

Wageknecht: Thank you. Come on. There’s more, there’s more.

York: We’ve all done it.

Wageknecht: So, with this project we were real­ly inter­est­ing in explor­ing kind of this taboo place of the Internet, where a lot of peo­ple don’t admit they go to, but the major­i­ty of us do fre­quent quite often. We spent about two months on a site called Cam4. It’s a site where it’s not just read-only porn, as I like to call it, but it’s read/write porn. So, you can actu­al­ly inter­act with peo­ple through chat windows.

So, we start­ed to ask them to pose. And we would give them images of real­ly icon­ic, well-known pieces of art, and asked him if they could emu­late that and recre­ate it for us for a small amount of mon­ey. We were try­ing to kind of go around these ques­tions about what is porn ver­sus art, and what is beau­ty ver­sus man­u­fac­tured beau­ty or real beau­ty. And how do these things kind of jux­ta­pose when you see what is con­sid­ered over the mass­es as art ver­sus porn. 

So, this piece was also shown in 2013 in New York dur­ing a thing called Internet Week. You’d think New York is a very lib­er­al part of the US, and the piece was put up, and with­in a few days Google was next to us and decid­ed to have it tak­en down. 

So, it comes down to this ques­tion of it’s 2013, it’s the future. Like, we’re sup­posed to have jet­packs, all this cool stuff should be hap­pen­ing. But we’re still debat­ing this core moral ques­tion of like, what is art? What is porn? Is there a dif­fer­ence? And how you delin­eate those things?

So, I guess it real­ly came down to the ques­tion of who makes the deci­sions and how can you [refute?] when you can’t? Because when Google pulled down the work in the exhi­bi­tion, I tried to fight it. I argued it, and there was ulti­mate­ly no one I could speak to. And that was being phys­i­cal­ly present. So it was real­ly a wake up call about how the online tran­si­tions to the real.

York: So, to that ques­tion, Who does decide?” I think it’s worth look­ing at the sta­tis­tics of these com­pa­nies to see who’s work­ing there and who’s mak­ing these deci­sions. Now, some of you may have seen Sarah Roberts’ talk yes­ter­day, and she talked about con­tent mod­er­a­tion and who the peo­ple are actu­al­ly mak­ing the judg­ment. And I think that that’s a big part of it, but so is who­ev­er makes the deci­sion at the top.

This is the US staff of Facebook, and the break­down of eth­nic­i­ty. Fifty-five per­cent are white, 36% are Asian, and every­one else is under 4%. In terms of men and women, we don’t have that slide here, but it’s over 70% men in lead­er­ship posi­tions. And that’s on both pol­i­cy and tech­nol­o­gy, as far as we can tell. 

So, what that says to me… Now, I don’t think nec­es­sar­i­ly that these are prudes, that these are peo­ple who believe that nudi­ty is wrong. But this is so ingrained in American cul­ture. We have it in the way that our films are reg­u­lat­ed, the way that our tele­vi­sion is reg­u­lat­ed. And the prob­lem here is that Facebook, as an American com­pa­ny, is mak­ing these deci­sions for the entire world.

We restrict the dis­play of nudi­ty because some audi­ences with­in our glob­al com­mu­ni­ty may be sen­si­tive to this type of con­tent — par­tic­u­lar­ly because of their cul­tur­al back­ground or age.
Facebook Community Standards [pre­sen­ta­tion slide]

But this is inter­est­ing. Because what they say about that is that they restrict the dis­play of nudi­ty because some audi­ences with­in our glob­al com­mu­ni­ty may be sen­si­tive to this type of con­tent par­tic­u­lar­ly because of their cul­tur­al back­ground or age.”

Now, if I can read between the lines here, what I think they’re say­ing is We don’t want the gov­ern­ment of Saudi Arabia to block us.” It’s a real threat, and I think eco­nom­i­cal­ly what these com­pa­nies see is we have to cre­ate this flat, dull glob­al stan­dard for speech that allows every­one to be hap­py. But what does that say when we’re teach­ing our chil­dren that nudi­ty is wrong? That women can’t be top­less but men can.

I just want to leave you with this slide here. This is a pic­ture of from Berlin about three days ago, near Rosenthaler Platz. If you’ve walked around recent­ly, you’ve prob­a­bly seen this poster. It’s for a local art exhi­bi­tion. And I was sit­ting at a cafe and I noticed the poster, and I decid­ed to watch. And you know what I did­n’t see, is I did­n’t see a sin­gle par­ent cov­er their child’s eyes. Because it’s fine. It’s accept­able. So, why is it okay on a street in Berlin but not on Facebook, a glob­al plat­form that we all use? Why do we want to teach peo­ple this dou­ble stan­dard of wom­en’s bod­ies? Why do we want to treat bod­ies like pornog­ra­phy. And I would even go a step fur­ther with what we’ve been talk­ing about, and say why is pornog­ra­phy even wrong?

Wageknecht: So, as an artist it’s also I think real­ly important—again like what real­ly was bring­ing up, as artists and cul­tur­al cap­i­tal cre­ators you sort of think about the impli­ca­tions of this. And do you make nudes? Do you put them online? Do you expose them to a com­mu­ni­ty of 1.4 bil­lion, and what are the impli­ca­tions of that being delet­ed to your per­son­al prac­tice, to your social cir­cles, and everything?

York: And of course we rec­og­nize that there are con­cerns around secu­ri­ty, as well. We know that there’s a talk tomor­row that we rec­om­mend, Joana Varon, who was the oth­er speak­er, sorry?

Wageknecht: Joana Varon and Coding Rights.

York: Yes. You should def­i­nite­ly see their talks, and save nudes. But if you’d like to talk to us a lit­tle bit more, you are wel­come to. And we like to open up the floor for ques­tions, if that’s alright with you.

Mushon Zer-Aviv: Thank you, that was real­ly inter­est­ing. What would you rec­om­mend as an alter­na­tive guide­lines, or should there be guide­lines at all? Addie, I know you’re a par­ent. And me as a par­ent, I would­n’t want the Internet to be the one that mod­er­ates, for bet­ter or worse, the whole con­cept of nudi­ty and sex­u­al­i­ty to my chil­dren. So, do you have an idea of an alter­na­tive guide­lines, or or is that more of a provocation?

Addie Wageknecht: For me, my son’s six, and it’s start­ing to become a ques­tion because he is becom­ing flu­ent in lan­guage enough to start nav­i­gat­ing the Web on his own. But ulti­mate­ly, I don’t see nec­es­sar­i­ly a dif­fer­ence between the online and the real. So, it’s a ques­tion of, do his friends online show it to him or does he dis­cov­er it with his friends social­ly in real? Because when I was younger, we would find the porn in the in our friends’ par­ents’ draw­er, and that was like, how you dis­cov­ered sex. So, I don’t real­ly nec­es­sar­i­ly see a huge dif­fer­ence between the two.

Jillian York: So, from my per­spec­tive I think that there are a cou­ple things that Facebook could real­is­ti­cal­ly do to make this a lit­tle bit bet­ter. I think the first one is treat wom­en’s and men’s bod­ies the same. It’s fine if they decide, for exam­ple, that they don’t want to show any­thing below the waist. If they do that, fine. Treat men and wom­en’s bod­ies the same. But right now they’re not doing that, and they’re they’re essen­tial­ly per­pet­u­at­ing the sex­ism and teach­ing it to the next generation.

The oth­er thing that I would say is that com­pa­nies like YouTube, rather than com­plete­ly ban­ning nudi­ty, they put an inter­sti­tial that says you must be eigh­teen to click through, and you have to have a YouTube account. Presumably for a par­ent that would be enough of a bar­ri­er to make sure, for exam­ple, that your child has the right account, that they have the set­tings clicked in. They could also have child’s set­tings that par­ents can set up. I would be fine with all of those things. I don’t find that to be cen­sor­ship. But I think that blan­ket ban­ning it is what’s real­ly prob­lem­at­ic to me.

Audience 2: Hi. I was won­der­ing whether you thought it would be a good idea to have a nationally-based algo­rithm tried to imple­ment local norms so that you don’t have one glob­al standard.

York: So, I’m so I’m sort of torn on this, because I am sen­si­tive to the fact that there are some places where no one wants to see— Well, I actu­al­ly don’t believe that. I think every­one wants to see this. But I believe that there are some places where it’s treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly. At the same time, I believe in one Internet. I believe in a glob­al Internet that is for every­one. And I know that not every­one will agree with that, and that’s fine. But I think that it would be real­ly… Once you insti­tute algo­rithm like that, who’s to say, Okay, now we’re going to ban images of women entire­ly in this coun­try.” That would not be accept­able to me. And so treat­ing cul­tures dif­fer­ent­ly in that sense rather than giv­ing peo­ple the auton­o­my and respon­si­bil­i­ty for them­selves and their chil­dren and fam­i­lies, I would be skeptical.

Further Reference

This pre­sen­ta­tion at the re:publica site.

Who defines pornog­ra­phy? These days, it’s Facebook.” by Jillian at Washington Post.