Launched in 2020, the artist- and activist-led project Don’t Delete Art (DDA) targets social media platforms using suppressive content moderation algorithms that impact the visibility of the world’s most vulnerable creators. Recently, the project’s collaborators produced a manifesto calling on artists who use social media to demand change from these platforms now that Internet visibility has largely superseded in-person art experiences.
“Social media corporations have become cultural gatekeepers with unprecedented power to determine which artworks can freely circulate and which ones are banned or pushed into the digital margins,” DDA’s manifesto reads.
In an interview with Hyperallergic, DDA’s Editor-at-Large Emma Shapiro detailed the project’s goals and spoke about how content moderation polices women-identifying, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and disabled artists from achieving the same metrics when they use their bodies in their work in a way that pushes the boundaries of what Meta (the company that owns Facebook and Instagram) considers “objectionable” or explicit content. Shapiro, a Hyperallergic contributor and arts writer who has covered the “Free the Nipple” movement at length, said that while there are many overlaps between DDA and #FreeTheNipple, censored artwork isn’t always body-oriented.
“There’s definitely some artists who are voicing certain politics with their artwork who are being hit with certain kinds of suppression based on the text that goes with their artwork,” Shapiro noted, specifying that the text-based suppression occurs from both uploaded images as well as what is written in the post captions. “We’re also seeing that Instagram can and will ‘shadowban’ people, effectively suppressing them without outright suspending their accounts,” Shapiro added.
When a social media user is “shadowbanned,” their content and account are deemed “un-recommendable”; therefore, their account information won’t show up via Instagram’s search function, their posts are suppressed by the algorithm, which decimates the number of impressions and interactions on their content, and their posts are no longer viewable under certain hashtags or Instagram’s Explore page. Shadowbanned accounts are also not notified that their content is being restricted, leaving users confused about their metrics and the sudden lack of interaction.
Shadowbanning was originally used to thwart spammers by making their content invisible instead of outright banning them so that they wouldn’t feel compelled to find a workaround, but the feature has gone on to impact artists, activists, sex workers, and occasionally regular old netizens.
Despite the fact that Instagram’s post guidelines explicitly allow nudity in artwork, many artists report that their body-oriented paintings or sculptures were mis-flagged by the platform’s content moderation algorithm. Shapiro herself even experienced a shadowban after posting a photo of a drawing containing a nude body.
“Many people can misunderstand our focus on social media censorship as something that’s pretty frivolous and like unimportant,” Shapiro continued. “But the truth of the matter is the landscape of internet regulation is changing really fast, and these companies who have not already created the framework to protect artistic expression and already at-risk artists will be very prone to continue to kick us off platforms.”
Shapiro asks us to further consider the implications of Internet censorship against artists beyond visibility. Are these creators being passed over for opportunities? Are galleries whose social media accounts are penalized for posting a specific artist’s work going to reconsider whom they invest in moving forward to protect their brand? Will partisan politics capitalize on these modes of censorship to continuously encroach on the freedoms of women and trans artists who have a web presence?
“We’re specifically calling on social media companies to give artists a seat at the table for content moderation guidelines and how these decisions get made,” Shapiro explained.
Meta has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.
Cofounded by Savannah Spirit and Spencer Tunick, and backed by the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America’s Artists At Risk Connection, and FreeMuse, DDA offers censorship evasion and account appeal resources for artists as well as an online gallery supported by a promotional newsletter that showcases artist submissions of artwork that was previously flagged, suppressed, or outright removed from social media through content moderation.
So far, the manifesto has over 1,400 individual signatures since its inception in mid-February. Shapiro told Hyperallergic that the next step is to get more institutional support through signatures and awareness from artist residencies, museums, galleries, collectives, and other community-wide companies and organizations who have a stake in the cause, whether they know it or not.
“We want to see the support from the major voices of the art community for this very specific and powerful concern that we have before we present this to social media platforms and demand a seat at the table,” Shapiro concluded.