Over the last couple of days I have seen content removed from Facebook and my account locked out for a bit, including everything tied into Facebook. And I have also been working with Smugmug because while nudity is not allowed apparently someone decided to complain that there was nudity in my galleries on Smugmug. Not that there are not multiple gigabytes of fine art nudes, nudes, sex, BDSM, and other stuff on Smugmug to go along with that.
The problem all centers on pictures I took at the Freemont Summer Solstice Parade, an amazing parade that has quite the history of expression, art, fantasy, and weirdness. The Freemont Summer Solstice Parade is a Seattle institution and as such deserves not only the coverage I gave it, but the coverage of the many respectable newspapers, TV like KING and KIRO here in Seattle. The pictures I took are like the millions of other pictures taken at the event, there is body paint, there are parade floats, and there are people of all ages, walks of life, sexual orientation, and in various states of exhibitionism.
The parade has 100’s of thousands of people flooding into the Freemont area for a weekend of fun, sun, weirdness, arts, and simply having a good time.
At one point during the week I posted a picture of two people dancing in the street that was subsequently pulled by Facebook without any kind of reason why other than violating their terms of service. I am not the only photographer out there that has had this happen to them, including one award winning internationally recognized photographer from France, and he has coverage of his travails over on the Huffington post.
Real women and men are anatomically correct, just a thought here that makes sense, most of us want our partners and friends to be anatomically correct. The only thing I can assume out of Facebook is that if you blow up the picture to 300% you can just make out a nipple on one of the people in the background. It is not a center focus of the picture, it is an accidental nipple, one that I would not have noticed and didn’t note when I posted it to Facebook.
Then there is Smugmug, as much as I love Smugmug (and will continue to be a paying customer, and have been a paying customer since 2005), I got a nice notice from their help desk heroes that someone had complained that there was nudity in one of my Galleries. Nudity is not officially allowed on Smugmug, but if you do a search for Fine Art Nudes, or even just Nude, thousands of pictures are there in public smugmug search. If the rule is “no nudity” then it must be applied evenly, not just when someone complains about nudity. Or Smugmug needs to age gate things like you can on Flickr and Deviant Art. We can’t have it both ways, either it is or it is not, and if not those rules need to apply evenly across the entire breadth of users of the site.
And that whole thing brings me to the idea of Arbitrary.
Nothing upsets people more than a rule that applies to them, but to no one else. That is singling out a person for special treatment, and that isn’t necessarily fair. We want to be treated fairly, even though we know that is something that happens infrequently. If we think we are not being treated fairly, we tend to get a bit upset about things.
With Facebook I didn’t know what the issue was other than violating their terms of service for a 3 pixel nipple that was out of focus, and embedded deeply into the background of the picture. The only reason I can come to this conclusion is because I learned about the award winning French photographer and his issues with women’s nipples. Remember, real women and men are anatomically correct, and a 3 pixel nipple really should not set off the morality monitors anywhere. Especially if it is not the focus of the image, deeply embedded in the background of the image, and for all intents and purposes an “accidental nipple”.
One has to wonder what prurient person focused on a 3 pixel nipple embedded in the background of a picture.
When Facebook logged me out everywhere, including social networks like Klout, Kred, Empire Avenue, and Facebook feeds into other systems, the amount of hysteria caused by automated connections, and the Facebook SSO sign on multiple sites failed, suddenly I am locked out of Pinterest, news sites, and other sites where my login is my Facebook login.
That single point of failure should give anyone pause for thought, if my Facebook account is canceled, then so does all the web sites that is tied to my Facebook account for logins also fail. That is a huge liability that an act of arbitrary censorship for a nipple that you have to blow the picture up 3X its normal size to even see gives me pause. It also means that I can no longer trust Facebook SSO at all, because of the arbitrary nature of the way that Facebook handled the image, and the subsequent fall out from that lockout and affirmation of their Terms of Service.
The actions of Facebook were not just arbitrary, but I am still guessing in the dark, I do not have any correspondence with Facebook that would explain exactly what went wrong. I truly do not care how it was reported, or who reported it if anyone. Without a clear knowledge of what TOS I violated, we are left guessing and spending about an hour to reauthorize the applications that I need to maintain a steady state social presence. Without knowing what happened, what rule I violated, Facebook comes off as capricious and arbitrary. As a walled garden of content, having them behave in arbitrary and capricious ways makes me nervous, makes them untrustworthy, and worries me with Facebook SSO, and the sites and accounts that rely on Facebook single signon.
Then we move over to Smugmug, they have been much cooler about things and explained that they had received multiple complaints that there was nudity in my galleries, and that this violated a specific section of their Terms of Service, especially Smugmug officially does not permit nudity on their site. That is good, they told me what the issue was then helped me set up the Galleries so that people I wanted to get to them could, but was invisible to Smugmug and Smugmug search.
The problem is that Smugmug much like Flickr is a cesspool of publicly searchable nudity, porn, BDSM, and Fine Art Nudes.
Applying the rule to one because of a complaint from someone else without evenly applying that rule to everyone is also arbitrary and capricious. It singles out one person for a violation of the TOS, without applying it equally and fairly across the entire infrastructure. There is nothing worse than being singled out for doing something, when thousands of Smugmug users are also violating that same rule. While I do not fault Smugmug for helping me set up the galleries correctly as far as they were concerned, what I do worry about is that the focus on one, rather than all. To be taken credibly they must apply TOS rules evenly, fairly, and to all users. It would be far easier to change their TOS to include nudity and implement an age gate like Flickr does than go after the hundreds of thousands of nude anatomically correct men and women pictures on the site.
The dependencies that we have with systems, I rely on Smugmug daily to deliver up to 10,000 images a day, I rely on Facebook to provide login information to most sites that are set up to use my Facebook login everywhere, simply worries me.
That means I change my behavior, and can no longer believe that Facebook SSO is safe for me to use because lord knows when I will post a picture with a 3 pixel nipple in it without even noticing that. Or simply stop using Facebook for pictures, and use G+ which has a robust art and picture community that does not seem to mind a 3 pixel nipple (I loaded pictures on both sites). Smugmug on the other hand has disappointed me by not applying a rule evenly and fairly. While I love their help desk heroes for helping me out, I have the feeling that I will need to retain those conversations with Smugmug support for the rest of my time on that site that shows I made best effort if they shut me down later on. It also means I keep a local copy of all my pictures, and rely on Flickr more as a backup in case Smugmug goes and kills the account because I forgot to set the gallery correctly.
I don’t mind censorship, we all know that we need to censor our speech and not yell fire in a crowded theater. We accept that as a society that there are limits to what we can say and what we do. What I resent is that capricious and arbitrary censorship on Facebook is alive and well not just for me, but for many people, and that rules are applied unevenly at Smugmug.
We all want to think that those systems we interact with will be fair, but when they become arbitrary and capricious with the follow on effects in the case of Facebook’s single sign on, they become a decided liability, and one where we must make back up plans, make sure things are not so tied to each other that the failure of one system cuts us off out of multiple systems, or otherwise impacts our ability to share, connect, and enjoy two people dancing in the street.