Home Arts Activists plan day of action, online and in New York museums, against social media art censorship

Activists plan day of action, online and in New York museums, against social media art censorship

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A coalition of art workers is calling on the art world to push back against social media censorship with a day of action targeting tech companies. Don’t Delete Art, a group formed in 2020 to defend artistic freedom online, has planned online and in-person rallies to urge platforms like Instagram to revise their content moderation policies to better serve the arts. Its members will congregate outside major New York museums throughout the day on Thursday, June 15, and encourage artists to post images of their work with a “Don’t Delete Art” sticker on their social media pages.

“Unfortunately, art is arbitrarily deleted or removed, often due to opaque and inconsistent content moderation and appeals processes,” said Julie Trebault, director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), in a statement. “Social media companies need to do better. Digital spaces are one of the latest frontiers for artists to safely publish their work and reach large audiences, especially as repression and censorship increase around the world.

The Social Media Website Community Standards aim to make the internet a safer place for everyone. But policies around nudity, sexual activity, and other content deemed objectionable have also led to the flagging and removal of artwork images and even the mass deletion of artist accounts. Artist Betty Tompkins repeatedly had works censored by Instagram and was blocked from the platform for several days in 2019. In 2021, the social media giant deleted an image of a promotional poster for the film by director Pedro Almodóvar Madres Paralelas, which depicted a lactating nipple, for breaking “rules against nudity”. Instagram later reversed course, saying the image showed “clear artistic context”.

These erasures, which are frequent and often permanent, occur despite companies’ provisions for creative expression. Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, takes into account certain arts, including “adult sexual activity in digital art”, which can be shown to people 18 and older. These community guidelines remain “too restrictive and unclear”, DDA members argue in a manifesto released last February. The statement urges a re-examination of restrictions related to the art, a review of alleged violations and an improvement in the appeal and notification process.

To advance support for his cause, the coalition, which includes ARC, the arts and culture advocacy program of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), and the international organization Freemuse, will gather in front of five arts institutions on June 15 to distribute campaign materials and collect signatures for the manifesto. Starting with the Whitney Museum, they will travel to the Parsons School of Design, the Magnum Foundation, the New Museum and the International Center of Photography Museum. Their final stop is Meta’s New York offices at 770 Broadway to deliver manifesto requests, in addition to records of instances where company policies have failed artists.

“We have documented cases in which artists have been penalized for posting images of award-winning works and works commissioned by revered museums,” said Elizabeth Larison, director of the arts and culture advocacy program at the NVC. “The impact of such policies is particularly devastating for emerging and mid-career artists who lack gallery representation and artists who live under oppressive regimes.”

Artists are also encouraged to spread the word online by posting images of their artwork, concealing details platforms might deem objectionable with digital stickers of the DDA logo, which are available on Giphy. The action aims to draw attention to how artists tend to censor themselves to appeal to social media algorithms, DDA says, whether by masking or blurring parts of an image.

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