- Tom- Tom
Facebook recently took down this photograph of one of my life-sized figure drawings. They sent me an email claiming I’d violated “community standards” and instructed me to read their policy statement. The applicable paragraph reads:
“Nudity and Pornography – Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.”
Facebook uses the words “pornography” and “community standards”, as if they know what those words mean. They borrow those terms from a long line of US Supreme Court cases on censorship, but misuse them. For more history on this complex subject see this link . No surprise here, many of the first prosecutions against artists under various censorship laws were against gay men who photographed nude males. But over the years a few principles have emerged as clear. First, an image that contains “mere nudity” is constitutionally protected as free speech – it is not pornography. That argument was settled by the Supreme Court in 1974 in Jenkins v. Georgia. On the subject of what may or may not violate “community standards”, the court said the standard had to be interpreted broadly across the whole country. No small community (or committee of Facebook censors) can dictate a constricted “community standards” test and impose it on the rest of us. Even Hustler Magazine does not violate “community standards” because legions of horny heterosexual men like their women with fried blond hair and scary makeup pandering anatomical details that cause some of us to scream “too much information!”
Free speech won, or so we thought. Since the end of the age of snail mail, the corporations who control the social media are now the censors. To police their realms, the social media borrowed the tactic of fascist dictators – the snitch system. Any person with Anita Bryant Syndrome can flag anyone for posting anything they don’t like. Any ignorant, neurotic or mean spirited person with nothing better to do can appoint them Self Protector of Moral Decency with a terrible power easily misused. Hey Gestapo! Anne Frank lives in that attic.
Once “reported”, the case goes to the “deciders” at Facebook (and their recent purchase, Instagram) of what breaks their poorly drafted vague rules appears to be some network of groups of people entrusted with this task here and there around the globe. We don’t know who they are. They are not accountable. They don’t allow challenges to their omnipotence. No polite link to a page to send a note to the “deciders”. The website offers no route of appeal – just flat fiat. Big Brother has spoken. What we learned in our attempt to talk to Facebook about this issue is that you can’t. You have to have a contact inside the company or create a media embarrassment for them to pay any attention to us – we the people who make them rich and powerful.
By any common understanding either in law or social discourse, my drawing is not “pornographic”. When I googled “Facebook censorship”, I found that Facebook states that drawings, sculpture and paintings of the nude figure do not violate their policy. The simple minded take down of my drawing contradicts their own stated policy. #corporatedysfunction. And their exclusion of photography is an insult to the art world as well as to common sense. The battle of whether or not a photograph is fine art is long settled. Their policy plants Facebook on the stupid side of history. The last century of evolution on all these subjects is lost to them. #corporateilliteracy
And it gets worse. Time Magazine honored my newest book, Fire Island Pines Polaroids on its list of the Best Photo Books of 2013. We posted Time’s announcement – which contained a photo of the book’s cover – on Facebook. A few days after the post, Facebook sent us a note telling us that this post was our Most Popular and – if we paid them, they would promote our post and make it way more popular and widely read. We said ok we’ll try it – here’s the money.
A day later, Facebook told us that our post of the Time Magazine coverage violated their “community standards”. Exactly whose community standards are those? How about community standards in the real world. In that real world, the book garnered astonishing press and respect and was featured in publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal, Interview Magazine, NY Times, Paper, Vice , OUT and many more. Reviewers, booksellers and our publisher had posted the book cover on Facebook an innumerable number of times over the past year. But near a year later Facebook censors our Time Magazine post? #corporatestupidity
In the bigger picture, Facebook is simply a communication tool. Facebook dictates what we communicate in order to raise the value of us, their asset, to corporate advertisers. Sometimes what they tell us reveals the homophobic reality of their culture. In recent months, examples of Facebook censorship have included material that in no way could be deemed “pornographic”. Two men kissing? Why are morons guarding their gate?
Facebook does not want to offend any advertiser – actual or potential. They dumb the conversation down to the lowest common denominator to protect their money. McDonalds has beyond millions to convince obese kids and their parents to stuff themselves to insensibility and early death. Facebook will not risk offending the company responsible for this big fat American nightmare. (I harbor a secret fantasy. One of those fat kids will see my drawings and photographs and learn what potential the human body has for expressing beauty. He will stop going to McDonalds and start exercising.)
Facebook joins a long history of institutional sexphobic censors – from medieval clerics who hacked the dicks off classical sculpture to the Nazis who did so much worse. Facebook plays this history into the future. Our government could never get away with the corporate censorship Facebook so casually imposes. 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day. (Source: Gizmodo) Presently, Facebook monitors the conversations of 1.2 billion users. That is a lot of speech that ought to be free. Big Brother turns out to be Faceless Facebook – accountable to no one, no principal – nothing but their own bottom line.
And for a feed with more explicit previews of the uncensored Members Area at TomBianchi.com, head to our Tumblr page.