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Don’t Delete Art: A Gallery of Art Censored by Social Media Platforms

The promise of digital platforms as democratizers of art and culture is within reach. However, digital gatekeepers controlling the world’s largest social media platforms have enormous power to determine what content can freely circulate and what should be banned or pushed into the digital margins. And they are wielding that power in an often chaotic and overbroad manner: Not only is content removed because of overly restrictive and sometimes unclear community guidelines, but, unbeknownst to users, material vaguely defined as “objectionable” is made to disappear from search and or explore functions, and hashtags.

All this has a dire effect on the work of emerging artists, those living in repressive regimes and, in general, on all who have no museum or gallery representation. The effect promises to be even worse during COVID-19 lockdowns, as major social platforms have shifted the vast majority of content moderation decisions to algorithms. Thus work can be erroneously removed and whole accounts deleted with thousands of followers lost. With no possibility of appeal, an artist can feel fearful and powerless and opt to censor themselves.

To show some of the exemplary work whose circulation is currently arrested by social media platforms – whether due to faulty algorithms and a lacking appeals process or  due to ill-considered community guidelines – we are launching an online art gallery of Art Censored by Social Media Platforms. This is a curated gallery, which can only showcase a limited number of representative works. However, all artists have the opportunity to share their censorship stories on Censorpedia, National Coalition Against Censorship’s wiki of censorship incidents.

With this gallery, we call on social media companies to adopt a set of principles guiding the regulation of art online and allowing art to circulate freely in the online environment.

Notice and Appeal Principles for Social Media Platforms

Our coalition has laid out the below principles as practices that should be adopted by all social media platforms:

Notification:

  • Users should be notified every time content is removed or “downranked,” i.e. , removed from platform-specific functions ensuring higher visibility, such as hashtags, Instagram’s explore feature and others.
  • Notices should include the following information:
    • details about the specific content removed
    • reasons for removal, including the specific rule violated
    • information as to how the content was detected
  • Notification of risk of permanent deletion of account.

Appeal:  

  • Every notification of removal or downranking should also contain clear information on how to appeal the decision. 
  • Appeal should be available even if a user’s account is suspended or terminated.
  • The appeals process needs to include:
    • an opportunity to present additional information to be considered in the review;
    • review by a person or a panel that was not involved in the initial decision;
    • notification of the results and explanation, offered within a period of time not longer than seven days;
    • availability of a last instance review by an independent external oversight mechanism.

Both notices and appeal process should be

    • in the nationally recognised languages of the countries in which the platforms operate and
    • available in the company’s’ Terms of Service;
    • accessible even if a user’s account is suspended or terminated.

Further suggestions regarding artistic content:

  • Platforms should take steps to make sure artist accounts are not repeatedly silenced: one option is to verify artist and arts organization accounts and then subject them to a different level of algorithmic scrutiny.
  • Platforms should not be censoring artistic expression for the sole reason that it contains nudity. Whereas there may be problems associated with establishing consent or making sure no illegal material is circulated, the human nude has always been one of the central subjects of art. Platforms should develop mechanisms that assure imagery that is present in the worlds museums can also be seen and shared on social media.