Artistic c#ns*rsh!p pervades social media

A recent incident of censorship targeted Caravaggio’s “The Victorious Cupid (Amor Vincit Omnia).,” above, prompting a discussion of what constitutes appropriate online content. Courtesy of Google Cultural Institute via Wikimedia
A recent incident of censorship targeted Caravaggio’s “The Victorious Cupid (Amor Vincit Omnia).,” above, prompting a discussion of what constitutes appropriate online content. Courtesy of Google Cultural Institute via Wikimedia
A recent incident of censorship targeted Caravaggio’s “The Victorious Cupid (Amor Vincit Omnia).,” above, prompting a discussion of what constitutes appropriate online content. Courtesy of Google Cultural Institute via Wikimedia

A few days ago, while scrolling down my Face­book newsfeed, I came across an article that I found troubling. It was titled “Facebook Censors Caravaggio’s Nude Cupid, Then Changes Mind.” It was published on Artnet News. A synopsis of the article is as follows: Art aficionado and Face­book user Hamilton Moura Filho’s Facebook account was briefly suspended after he posted an image of Caravaggio’s “The Victorious Cu­pid (Amor Vincit Omnia).” Facebook informed Filho that because the painting portrays a nude male with his legs splayed, it violated Facebook Community Standards and thus the image was censored. The article goes on further to reveal that Facebook has faced consistent backlash for its repeated censorship of art that depicts nude figures. This article left me enraged and empow­ered to write about my thoughts regarding the ridiculous fact that social media platforms like Facebook would censor any image of any work of art, or better yet, anything at all.

A primary reason as to why this particular act of censorship frustrates me is because of the fact that art images serve as a platform for the spread of knowledge. Any image of art that a Facebook user posts can become a site for discussion about that work of art. There are also many leading fig­ures in the art world that have Facebook accounts and use social media as a way in which to spread awareness of art and to open up spaces for discus­sion—on a global scale! I wholeheartedly believe that the censorship of art that portrays nudity is an act that is detrimental to the spread of under­standing art. When I shared my thoughts with Dominic Demeterfi ’20, he expressed, “I think that Facebook’s censorship policy towards nudity is asinine because it disguises censorship as pro­tection … They need to be striving to provide a platform for uncensored free speech.”

Before going on any further, here is an excerpt taken from Facebook’s Community Standards on the subject of nudity: “We restrict the display of nudity because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content–particularly because of their cultural background or age … We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks … We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures.” What strikes me after reading this and reminding myself of the censorship of “Cu­pid” is that Facebook took down an image of a painting because of its portrayal of nudity while its own Community Standards state that it allows photographs of art that depicts nude figures. It is not right that Facebook gets to make a distinc­tion between art as either portraying something properly nude or improperly nude (aka censor­ship-worthy). And on the subject of Facebook claiming that it bans nudity because of the cul­tural background or age of other Facebook users in the world, I am also left troubled. The nudity of “Cupid” does not aim to be erotic or sexually provocative. On the other hand, many Facebook users take and post photos and videos of people that are clothed, but clothed in a way that is re­vealing and hypersexual. All I am trying to say here is that if Facebook truly does care about maintaining the integrity of the sensitivities of a user’s cultural background or age, it should be re­minded that Facebook users are subject to images and videos of many sexualized people.

I pointed this out to Sylvia Foster ’19 and she responded, “I find it disturbing that Facebook’s censorship of this particular image, which de­picts an idealized body of a prepubescent boy, supports the sexualization and vulgarization of an ‘underage’ body.” I couldn’t agree more. By overlooking Caravaggio’s “Cupid” and subjecting it to the category of censor-worthy nude art, the painting is debased and art is misunderstood. I re­call the day I sat in Taylor Hall for Art 106 when Professor Yvonne Elet lectured on Caravaggio’s “The Victorious Cupid (Amor Vincit Omnia).” It is a painting inspired by Virgil, Donatello and so much more. This is a painting but also a mas­terpiece that transcends vulgarity and corporeal pleasures. This painting is about Love. Facebook’s censorship of it was disrespectful and wrong. Facebook needs to rethink its views on nudity and censorship.

It is important to point out that social media platforms are not platforms for free speech. Not only are paintings being censored by Facebook, but so is political speech. Furthermore, Facebook allows much more offensive or triggering content than the nudity of a classically rendered Cupid. For example, I, along with many other Facebook users, come across violent words, images and vid­eos fueled by hate and oppression. I shared my thoughts with Elias Contrubis ’20 and he asked, “Why is a painting depicting love and innocence censored while graphic videos of street fights are readily available? Why is a classical masterpiece, an integral part of education in art, censored while a violent youth culture grows?” If we are all susceptible to being confronted by a racist vid­eo or status update on Facebook, I think we need to reconsider the censorship of nude art, since it is undoubtedly a more pleasant experience to admire images crafted with talent than to read posts or watch scenes revering hate-filled polit­ical rhetoric.

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