from the didn't-see-that-one-coming dept
Over the last few years, we’ve seen more and more focus on using content moderation efforts to stamp out anything even remotely upsetting to certain loud interest groups. In particular, we’ve seen NCOSE, formerly “Morality in Media,” spending the past few years whipping up a frenzy about “pornography” online. They were one of the key campaigners for FOSTA, which they flat out admitted was step one in their plan to ban all pornography online. Recently, we’ve discussed how MasterCard had put in place ridiculous new rules that were making life difficult for tons of websites. Some of the websites noted that Mastercard told them it was taking direction from… NCOSE. Perhaps not surprisingly, just recently, NCOSE gave MasterCard its “Corporate Leadership Award” and praised the company for cracking down on pornography (which NCOSE considers the same as sex trafficking or child sexual abuse).
Of course, all of this has some real world impact. We’ve talked about how eBay, pressured to remove such content because of FOSTA and its payment processors, has been erasing LGBTQ history (something, it seems, NCOSE is happy about). And, of course, just recently, OnlyFans came close to prohibiting all sexually explicit material following threats from its financial partners — only to eventually work out a deal to make sure it could continue hosting adult content.
But all of this online prudishness has other consequences. Scott Nover, over at Quartz, has an amazing story about how museums in Vienna are finding that images of classic paintings are being removed from all over the internet. Though, they’ve come up with a somewhat creative (and surprising) solution: the museums are setting up OnlyFans accounts, since the company is one of the remaining few which is able to post nude images without running afoul of content moderation rules. Incredibly, the effort is being run by Vienna’s Tourist Board.
The Vienna Tourist Board said its museums have faced a litany of online challenges. After the Natural History Museum Vienna posted images of the Venus of Willendorf, a 25,000-year-old Paleolithic limestone figurine, Facebook deleted the images and called them pornographic. The Albertina Museum had its TikTok account suspended in July for showing nudes from the Japanese artist and photographer ??Nobuyoshi Araki, CNN reported. And the Leopold Museum, which houses modern Austrian art, has struggled to advertise on social media because of the bans on nudity.
Even advertising the new OnlyFans account on other social media proved difficult, the board said. Twitter rejected links to the board?s website because it linked out to the OnlyFans account. (Twitter allows nudity on its platform as long as the account and images are labeled as such.) Facebook and Instagram only allowed ads featuring the Venus of Willendorf and a nude painting by Amedeo Modigliani after the tourist board explained the context to the platforms, but other images by artists Egon Schiele and Peter Paul Rubens were rejected.
This is all kind of ridiculous, but certainly falls into the Masnick’s Impossibility Theorem collection of the impossibility of content moderation at scale. Of course, it also recalls the case in France where Facebook took down an classic 1866 oil painting by Gustave Courbet, in which the court initially ruled that Facebook could not take down the image. Facebook has (for many years now) had exceptions to its nudity rule for “art,” but figuring out how to enforce that kind of thing is notoriously difficult.
And when you have prudish, moralizing busybodies like NCOSE pressuring companies to wipe out any and all nudity, it’s no surprise that this kind of thing is the result. But, really, all of this seems likely to backfire in the end. Cordoning off even artistic nudity into sites like OnlyFans… also means that more and more people may be introduced to OnlyFans “for the paintings,” only to discover what else is available there.