In 2013, Facebook blocked the god of comics, Rob Denbleyker, for allegedly poking fun at the Crucifix. Two years later, the social networking site has blocked graphic artist and novelist Orijit Sen. Not once, but twice.
Sen is not guilty of giving wings to his creativity by sketching goddesses, but of sharing his semi-nude artworks on Facebook.
The first time Sen got blocked was in November 2015 for posting “Punjaban” – a beautiful woman in a state of undress. The second was a week ago for another semi-nude titled “She came in through the bathroom window”.
The artist, now quite used to being blocked, wrote on his timeline, almost in jest: “The moral police strikes again! My post ‘She came in through the bathroom window’ has been removed by Facebook for ‘violating community standards’.”
Sen added, “This is not just an attempt to muzzle my freedom of expression, but an insult to the sensibilities of the 1000+ people who liked, shared and commented on the post.”
To show solidarity with Sen, several of his friends re-posted the artwork and dared the moral police to strike. They also challenged anonymous friends who are surreptitiously reporting such posts as “objectionable”.
“‘She came in through the bathroom window’, by Orijit Sen was removed by FB on grounds of reported obscenity. I am sharing this, as my Timeline hasn’t constituted a censor board yet,” posted a friend of Sen’s.
Some others made the artwork their profile picture and criticised Facebook’s attempt to impose conformity of thought, belief and practice.
Bans & Buttons
When Denbleyker, creator of the popular Cyanide & Happiness comics, was blocked for 12 hours a good four months after he allegedly hurt some people’s sentiments, he wrote, “I tried to figure out why, beyond the obvious ‘It makes fun of Jesus!’ answer. I don’t really like that answer because our culture pokes fun at religion often, and has done so for a while.”
Denbleyker’s comic was viewed by a million people and shared many times over, till some very specific people reported him.
“That’s kind of a weird protocol. The largest social platform (which makes it a platform for art and ideas, too) in history blocks content and threatens creators based solely on the opinions of a minority that doesn’t even care for said content to begin with.”
Denbleyker had these suggestions for Facebook:
- Curate your abuse reports better. There’s terrible, hateful stuff on Facebook, but context matters.
- Include a feature by which people who don’t like a thing don’t have to see it on their feed. I would gladly welcome an ‘I Hate This’ button on my page, if it means people who don’t like what I make never have to see it.
Facebook, of course, did not heed Denbleyker’s suggestions, and it came up with more reasons to block people
Warnings & Blocks
Facebook has a special section called “Warnings & Blocks”, to help subscribers to not wander down the wrong path.
Creating content that attacks another individual or group. Facebook will remove things that may be perceived as harassing or attacking by an individual or group.
Uploading unauthorised content such as either a photo or non-photo piece of content (such as a video) that was removed per a report that it was unauthorised.
- Nudity or other sexually suggestive content
- Hate speech, credible threats or direct attacks on an individual or group
- Content that contains self-harm or excessive violence
- Fake or impostor profiles
The good news is not everything that gets reported is removed from Facebook.”No, we remove content that doesn’t follow the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. If we determine you’ve posted something that doesn’t follow these terms, you may receive a warning or become disabled, depending on how severe the violation is,” reads the Facebook manual.
Ironically, Facebook allows photos of mothers breastfeeding because “breastfeeding is natural and beautiful”, and also post-mastectomy photos because “undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience”.
Interpreting the rulebook
There are no details of who decides which post is “obscene”. Or how many people need to report it before it is deemed obscene?
In Denbleyker’s case, after over a million likes and shares in four months, a certain section- a minority in number, thought it was obscene and the artist was banned.
The opinion of the majority that shared and liked his post clearly meant nothing.
Similarly, Sen’s post was liked by dozens of friends who have an eye for fine art. That was also the reason why it got noticed on the Facebook feed and someone eventually flagged it as obscene.
The sensibility of the majority being hurt didn’t matter.
Given the complexities of Indian culture and the ironies we live with, does Facebook really think that a picture of a woman breastfeeding will go unreported? Or a woman’s picture post-mastectomy?
Facebook heralded a social movement of sorts with its launch. But by playing moral police and succumbing to the whims and fancies of minority voices – it’s one step forward and two steps back for India.
Edited by Anna Verghese