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.

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.