Netizen Report: Art, Sex and the Social Web

Images from the Mujeres Tigre series by Proyecto Kahlo, censored on Facebook.

Images from the Mujeres Tigre series by Proyecto Kahlo, censored on Facebook.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

What makes us describe an image as “graphic”? How do social networks define a line between images that are and are not appropriate for their users? These questions spurred online discussion this week after Facebook blocked a user account for posting the image of a Gustave Courbet painting that depicts a woman’s pelvis and vagina.

When the user, an art teacher, sought legal recourse, arguing that the site had failed to distinguish between art and pornography, a local court ruled it had the jurisdiction to hear cases against Facebook. The social networking giant rejected the ruling, noting that upon sign-up, users agree that only US courts in the state of California have jurisdiction to hear such cases. This clause appears in section 15 of Facebook’s 3357-word “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”

The news led to conversations about other examples of art censorship on Facebook, including that of Proyecto Kahlo, a contemporary feminist art and media collective with members in Venezuela, Argentina, and Spain. With more than 500,000 likes on the social network, the group regularly uses Facebook to promote their online art and photography projects. On March 12, images of a woman’s backside were blocked from the page and the group’s administrator had her account suspended. The group responded by chiding the social network for allowing commercial imagery of women’s rear ends (consider Kim Kardashian) to remain on the site, while censoring images with clear artistic intention.

On a related note, Twitter and reddit announced changes to their policies that attempt to address the rise of revenge porn. Reddit’s privacy policy now prohibits the posting of images depicting anyone “in a state of nudity or engaged in any act of sexual conduct” without the subject’s consent. Twitter similarly changed its community guidelines to prevent the posting of “intimate photos or videos taken or distributed without the subject’s consent.” In both cases, a reporting mechanism is used to take down material, requiring the subject of the photo or their legal representative to request the platform review and remove the pictures. For Twitter, if the company’s employees determine that a photo does violate its rules, they will remove the content from public view and lock the corresponding account until the user deletes the content in question. 

Teen arrested for sharing Facebook post in India

A 19-year-old student in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was arrested and put in judicial custody for two weeks after sharing a post on Facebook. The post wrongly attributed a controversial political statement to local party leader Azam Khan. A member of Khan’s staff filed a complaint with police, leading to the young man’s arrest.

Hunger strike continues for Vietnamese photojournalist

Vietnamese photojournalist Minh Man Dang Nguyen continued a hunger strike to protest the cruel and inhumane treatment she has received while in jail. Minh Man was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house arrest in January 2013 on subversion charges for “activities aimed at overthrowing the government.” Her purported crime: taking photos of activist graffiti at a protest in Ho Chi Minh City and posting them online. She has been held in solitary confinement since November 2014. 

Malware attacks on rise in Tibet

Tibetan political activists are seeing an increase in targeted malware attacks that are typically initiated through unsolicited emails containing links and attachments. They suspect the uptick was triggered by the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, which took place on March 10. 

“Cybersecurity” or just plain surveillance?

US Senator Ron Wyden criticized the newly passed Cyber Information Sharing Act, which authorizes companies to share information about potential cybersecurity threats with other companies and the government. Legal experts at the American Civil Liberties Union say the bill lacks sufficient privacy protections and may end up facilitating greater monitoring of Internet users, according to the ACLU. Wyden quipped that “if information-sharing legislation does not include adequate privacy protections then that’s not a cybersecurity bill—it’s a surveillance bill by another name.”

Surveillance chills free speech, says Wikimedia

The Wikimedia Foundation sued the NSA over its mass surveillance programs last week. The lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation and several other organizations, including “The Nation” magazine and Amnesty International, stated that these surveillance activities violated the First Amendment of the US constitution by chilling free speech and open exchange of information and the privacy protections guaranteed by the US constitution. “The surveillance that we’re challenging gives the government virtually unfettered access to U.S. communications and the content of those communications,” said Patrick Toomey, an ACLU attorney.

Former FB engineer calls Facebook’s real name policy a “big problem”

Facebook released a new guide explaining how it applies its community standards, explaining more clearly how it defines things like nudity, hate speech, bullying, and harassment. It also provided more information on its process for determining whether to comply with local government requests, saying the company challenges requests that “appear to be unreasonable or overbroad,” but complies with requests to remove content where it is illegal in that country. Despite these attempts at transparency, Facebook’s policies remain controversial. Software engineer Brielle Harrison, who recently left the company, candidly called the company’s real name policy “a big problem” that is causing an internal divide in the company. According to Harrison, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “just doesn’t understand the trouble that can come from showing your legal identification in a public forum.” Harrison, who identifies as transgender, worked on Facebook’s 2014 release of custom gender options and advocated internally for a change to the policy, which she says can leave people vulnerable to abuse and harassment. 

Netizen Activism

The UK-based Index on Censorship announced the winners of its 2015 Freedom of Expression Awards competition on March 18. Among those recognized were Tamas Bodoky of Hungarian transparency NGO Atlatszo, a partner of Global Voices, and Moroccan political rapper Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat, a close friend of the GV community.

Lebanese civic NGO MARCH launched a legal hotline for bloggers and netizens to consult if they are summoned or questioned by the Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau for anything they post online. MARCH will connect users to a network of lawyers who will provide legal support free of charge. 

New Research

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Bojan Perkov, Sarah Myers West, and Annie Zaman contributed to this report. 

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