Organizers and activists of the Don’t Delete Art (DDA) movement are pushing back against digital surveillance and art censorship in a daylong online call to action. Today, July 26, DDA is inviting artists and other creatives to raise awareness and contact their lawmakers about a series of pending bills and laws that seek to restrict digital freedoms under the banner of improving child safety online.
In collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), Fight for the Future, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, DDA is calling attention to a myriad of proposed “Bad Internet Bills” meant to improve safe web use for minors that they say will likely backfire and cause more harm. In the same vein as the bipartisan-backed 2018 FOSTA-SESTA passing that was shown to have detrimental to deadly impacts on the safety and income of sex workers and lead to increased censorship of nudity and sexuality in art online, the new bills in question will further disenfranchise marginalized communities in the name of preventing children’s access and exposure to dangerous content, DDA says.
The recently revived EARN IT Act and the newly introduced Cooper Davis Act would require web service providers to actively investigate user-generated content for child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) rather than just flagging and reporting existing material, enabling the government to undermine end-to-end encryption to access private communications such as direct message. The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) would have service providers impose filters that would block any content deemed unsafe for minors (as decided by the attorneys general) and also ramp up digital surveillance.
Other bills on the list, like STOP CSAM and the RESTRICT Act, will have similar impacts that afford the government overarching control to access private communications and hold service providers responsible for “dangerous content.”
A spokesperson for DDA, which has been actively platforming artists whose work has been removed or flagged by Instagram and other social media platforms for sensitive content (usually nudity), told Hyperallergic that the above bills present “a profound danger to artistic expression online — particularly that of already-marginalized groups like LGBTQ+ and women artists.”
“Legislation like this incentivizes websites and platforms to erase and surveil the content of marginalized communities — including artistic expression — which ought to be protected online,” the spokesperson continued. “When art is censored and suppressed online, it negatively affects not just the artists who create it, but the public and arts communities that no longer have access to it.”
As there’s power in numbers, DDA is encouraging artists to raise awareness about these pending bills to their creative communities through social media by only posting about “Bad Internet Bills” today, July 26. The activists behind the project have created informational graphics and testimonial slides for artists to easily repost online, and an accessible resource toolkit equipped with a script and bulleted talking points to address when calling lawmakers to express opposition to the proposed bills. Last month, members of DDA staged a daylong action during which they leafletted five Manhattan art institutions before protesting outside Meta’s Manhattan offices.
“While the US government is not explicitly directing websites and platforms to erase and censor art in these bills, we know that legislation like this directly results in the chilling of freedom of expression online — something we witnessed after the passing of SESTA-FOSTA,” the DDA spokesperson said.