Thursday, September 29, 2011


Censorship in Social Media: Where do we draw the line?

The latest issue of The Art Newspaper featured an interesting little story on Facebook and their censorship of the nude in art. The article focuses on Swedish-based photography museum, Fotografiska, and their pre-emption of this censorship by censoring themselves: in their promotion of an upcoming retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe, they have covered the potentially titillating bodily areas of Mapplethorpe’s nudes with ‘Facebook-friendly squares’. This was partly to avoid having these images removed as has happened before, but also, as they say, “to trigger a debate.”

The social media giant previously attracted criticism for censoring Gustave Corbet’s ‘L’Origine du Monde’ after it was posted by Copenhagen-based artist Frode Steinicke. The ‘erotic’ work of art (a classification which alone is debateable in my opinion) falls short of Facebook’s prohibition of offensive materials. This sparked a natural reaction, with many other Facebook users defiantly changing their profile pictures to the famous painting in an act of solidarity with Steinicke.

Similar groups have sprung up in opposition to this online censorship of art. “Artists Against Art Censorship” and “Stop Censorship of Modern Art” both view the freedom to depict art as tantamount to the freedom of speech. Interestingly, there were no images in either group’s photo collection.

The question is where to draw the line? Why shouldn’t a person be allowed to share the art that moves them with his or her friends? How can a social media outlet be allowed the final say on what an established arts institution can promote? And perhaps the stickier problem – when does art become pornography?

That last one I’ll leave for a bigger word count. For now I’ll settle for agreeing with the New York Academy of Art who, when speaking out on their blog about their own experience of Facebook censorship, wrote “we find it difficult to allow Facebook to be the final arbiter – and online curator – of the artwork we share with the world.”

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