Reactor

Are Tech Companies the New Thought Police?

by Samantha Villenave on January 31, 2013

VALENCE, France — There is a new thread in the ongoing stream of censorship by social networks and mobile applications. Vine, the iPhone and iPod Touch “Instagram for video” app, underwent controversy mere days after it’s release on the App Store. Twitter-owned Vine was released last week to a notable buzz, even being featured by Apple as an App Store “Editor’s Pick” from the first day of its launch.

“Go make a scene,” Vine’s own words to users upon its introduction, quickly took a turn for the ironic, as the young sprout nearly immediately became a hotbed for porn. (As if no one could see that one coming … ) Six seconds of awkward Gif-like heaven hit the service hard, after a clip called “Dildoplay” from Vine user nsfwvine was showcased in the app’s featured videos.

While sexually explicit content is not in violation of  Twitter’s TOS, Vine is currently in violation of the notoriously conservative App Store guidelines:

“Apps containing pornographic material, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as ‘explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings,’ will be rejected.”

Apple has not, however, deleted Vine from the App Store, but has rather chosen, for the moment, to uproot it from the featured apps.

sexually-explicit-640

Vine has since taken steps to prevent users from finding sexual content through the app’s search feature. The Verge reported on Tuesday that hashtags such as #porn, #boobs, and #booty, were no longer searchable, although #pornvine and #nsfw reportedly still worked. Vine has added a 12+ age rating, and Twitter has disabled the sharing of the tawdry tags as tweets.

The controversy hit only a week after another photo sharing app, 500px was removed from the App Store for, according to Apple, “featuring pornographic images and material, a clear violation of our guidelines.” 500px has also since been reinstated to the App Store, after tweaking search in order to make sexually explicit material more difficult to find, as well as adding a 17+ age rating to the app. Tumblr, who was not a part of the controversy, and has not received a public reprimand on the part of Apple, has also since added a 17+ rating to their iOS app.

… the risk is that the general internet population will be taught by corporations …

The question of tech companies moderating what does and doesn’t qualify as porn is certainly a touchy one, and the decision processes of the App Store and Facebook seem to be a shift from the vulgar realities of the internet through which they operate. Booty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, as noted last week by Jillian Steinhauer, after the share and subsequent removal by Facebook of Alicia Eller’s interview with artist Kate Durbin. The nebulous Facebook Community Standards make one thing clear: Facebook remains critic and authority of what is and isn’t appropriate.

As artists become more dependant on social networks in order to be seen, and the average internet user becomes more sequestered in the online social environments and mobile apps, I can’t help but wonder if the standards set by these companies will affect the type of work that will be readily viewable by the online Everyman.

It would seem (if I permit myself to consider the most extreme example) that the inoffensive, the banal, and the paintings that qualify as pretty pictures will be readily avalable to all, viewed through these walled gardens, as laziness and fear may cause the average user to choose to remain within. Far from the dangers of independant thought, the risk is that the general internet population will be taught by corporations, in order to know what is acceptable, pure, and good, as they are sheltered within from the quirky stimulation that a simple web search, or Vine video, can provide.

 Above Vine by @jennawortham

 

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