A hot topic in recent years, especially in recent months, is censorship on social media, but more specifically Instagram, linked to artistic nudes and nude photography. More and more often we come across profiles of photographers, illustrators and designers that are blocked or deleted because they are deemed by the algorithm – which is talked about as if it were a malignant identity on a par with Darth Vader – to be unsuitable and not in line with Instagram’s policies.
Following the deletion of a profile, which may have had thousands if not millions of followers, a protest movement always arises: the creator in question denounces the incident through another account and, relying on principles such as freedom of expression, freedom of art and the absurdity of censorship, activates his followers so that, at some point, His Majesty the Algorithm does not restore the old profile. We have seen this with projects such as CHEAP Festival, but also with those of independent artists such as Ukrainian photographers Anastasia Mihaylova and David Dubnitsky.
Trying to analyse the issue, a question arose spontaneously: what if Instagram was right?
We understand the anger and disappointment one feels when one’s own content is blacked out, as we at Collater.al experienced first-hand when yet another nude photo article was deleted from Facebook, leading us to stop sharing on the platform. It’s like suddenly someone you relied on 110% no longer supports you.
Art Nude style of Photography is NOT pornographic content that Instagram photographers are accused of – it is ART. – says Anastasia Mihaylova – Art Nude Photography is a certain Culture, where the human body is an object of “art” created by nature itself, which in this case does not carry any sexual connotation.
This is certainly an irrefutable affirmation that is supported by centuries of art history, of painters, sculptors and photographers who have been able to transform the body into material to be moulded. After all, who better than we Italians to understand this, who grew up with the Riace Bronzes in our school history books, who went on trips to Florence to admire Donatello’s David, which every year ends up on the front page in a miniature version in the hands of the actor or actress on duty, who when we go to Bologna enjoy looking at Neptune from the right perspective to discover the small (which is not small) virility hidden by Giambologna.
Unfortunately, these are concepts that the human brain is capable of understanding, but that a string of numbers and figures managing billions of contents on a platform cannot yet grasp.
Indeed, Sicilian photographer Salvo Giuffrida points out that Instagram censors photos with naked body parts regardless of their meaning or photographic message.
Anastasia Mihaylova also adds that Instagram censorship rules and algorithms are so illiterate and not logical that accounts containing artwork are deleted, but at the same time accounts full of vulgar content, on the verge of pornography, continue to function normally on Instagram.
This happened to the profile of the Leopold Museum after publishing portraits of Egon Schiele, but also more recently to the Albertina Museum in Vienna with the photo of Venus of Willendorf.
This behaviour of the platform triggers two effects. Firstly, artists who, as Italian visual artist Andrea Crespi says, rely on social networks more than people think, lose their profile, which represents both hours of work and time spent growing it and a means with which to find other work and new clients. Secondly, and more rarely, artists start to rely on other platforms such as OnlyFans and Patreon.
Here, however, there is one main problem, which Andrea Crespi explained to us in detail: as of today, the possibility on these new platforms of achieving levels of virality comparable to socials such as Instagram and Facebook is a long way off. Partly because of the subscriptions required to use the content, which not all users are willing to pay, compared to realities where access is free.
This is basically the answer to the question: if Instagram obscures and deletes artistic nude images, why do artists continue to post this type of content? In a nutshell, because there is no better alternative. There is no other option that offers as much visibility and opportunity as Instagram.
However – there is always a though – the fact that we currently have only one alternative does not automatically make it what we want it to be. To date, Instagram, with over 1 billion users, is the best place for artists to present their work, but it was not born with this in mind.
The fact is that every time we have witnessed acts of censorship by Instagram, we talk, implicitly or explicitly, about a kind of injustice, an unfair act that violates the right of others. The right of others, however, is closely linked to the set of rules and laws (but also customs and traditions) that regulate the rights and duties of each of us.
The law of our country says that it is illegal to kill or steal, the rules governing transport say that to get on a plane, a train or a bus you need a ticket, more implicit rules say that it is not good to insult people in the street for no reason, to trip them, but also to eat with your feet or spit on the floor of the office.
Every aspect of our lives is governed by rules and principles that are meant to protect the whole community. We underline the whole community because it is a central point of the speech.
So we went to see what the Instagram community guidelines – which we all agree to when we sign up – say about nude content and it reads: ‘We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving and after-birth moments, health-related situations (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness or gender confirmation surgery) or an act of protest are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK too.postpartum, health-related situations (e.g., following a mastectomy, breast cancer awareness or gender confirmation surgery) or an act of protest. Photos of paintings and sculptures with nude images are also accepted.“
On what is written in the last line, with examples showing the contradiction, we have already spoken, but on everything else Instagram’s position is clear.
Perhaps a position not shared by many – according to the testimonies we have collected -, but there is someone who goes against the tide: the Italian photographer Emanuele Ferrari, in an interview that you can rewatch here, said: as regards censorship on social networks, it may seem strange, but I agree. I have a 6-year-old child and since social networks are now used by people of all ages, I think they should be protected because I think a nude photo, even an artistic one, should be understood. Photography has freedom of expression, you can take pictures of anything for me, but on social networks, you have to be careful, you have an educational obligation.
This brings us back to the concept of protecting the entire community. We often forget that on Instagram we are one of about 1.074 billion users who live in different countries, who are of different ages, speak a different language, have had a different upbringing and espouse customs that are diametrically opposed to our own.
It is a social network that was created as a place to share photos that everyone could appreciate and understand – and by everyone we now mean users of all age groups. Each of us can have his or her own opinion on whether nude photography and artistic nudity falls into this category, but sometimes we have to surrender to the fact that what is right, with respect to the rules of the real or virtual place we have chosen to share our content, does not coincide with what we want.