OnlyFans can be a refuge for naked art

OnlyFans has a surprisingly new member: Vienna Tourism.

No, their account does not include photos of any employee outside of business hours. Instead, the board will use the adult-only website to show pictures of paintings and sculptures on display in the Austrian capital that have been banned from social media sites for nudity or sexual content.

One of the offensive works of art is the Venus von Willendorf, a 25,000-year-old limestone figure of a woman. A few years ago Facebook removed a photo of it from the website of the Vienna Natural History Museum because it was « pornographic ».

There is also “Liebespaar”, Koloman Moser’s painting from the early 20th century, which the Leopold Museum included in a video for the anniversary in September. The video, blocked by Instagram and Facebook’s algorithms, « is a combination of details of the work and written feelings evoked by the painting, » said Christine Kociu, the museum’s social media manager. “It shows a naked couple hugging. It’s really cute. « 

Although nudity is generally not allowed on Instagram and Facebook, the platforms make some exceptions.

For example, Instagram’s community guidelines state: « Photos related to breastfeeding, birth and postbirth moments, health-related situations (e.g., nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is okay too. »

Facebook’s rules allow nudity in photographs of « paintings, sculptures, and other art, » and TikTok writes that it may allow « exceptions » to its ban on nudity and sexually explicit content.

Despite the flexibility of the platforms’ policies, museums and other institutions that post photos of art have found that cases of nudity were not always considered acceptable. One reason for this could be that social media censorship is less a matter of public opinion than the sensitivity of the artificial intelligence used to report content that violates a website’s guidelines.

The social media platforms did not respond to requests for comment on the apparent contradiction of the rules and their enforcement.

“We don’t have an anti-technology agenda,” says Norbert Kettner, Director of Vienna Tourism. But after the city’s museums faced case after case of social media sites deleting their posts, he said, “We thought, ‘What would be an alternative? What would a channel be in which nudity itself is not an issue? ‘ »

Kettner said the OnlyFans account was not a permanent solution, but a protest against censorship and a call for a conversation. « We want to draw attention to a certain thing, » he said. « We want to get out there and talk about the role of artificial intelligence and algorithms. »

It is not the first time that the tourism association has taken a public stand against censorship. In 2017, the board reached out to several cities with a proposal to run large-format ads featuring nude portraits by Egon Schiele, an early 20th century Austrian artist known for his sinewy depictions of the human form.

“We wanted to know how much we as a society can deal with nudity that was produced 100 or 110 years ago?” Said Mr. Kettner. Not much as it turned out.

Officials in England and Germany thought the images were too explicit. In the end, Vienna Tourism decided to use the cancellation as an opportunity. The posters appeared in London, Hamburg, Cologne and New York City, with certain parts of the body being covered by stripes of text and saying: « Sorry, 100 years old, but still too daring today. »

Vienna is hardly the only city whose art has been censored online. Many works of art from around the world have been incorrectly identified as pornography by AI. Facebook has pictures of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (from Imogen Cunningham’s naked body photographs), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (from a painting by Evelyne Axell of a woman licking an ice cream cone on it), and the Metropolitan. removed Museum of Art in New York (from a 1917 painting of a nude woman by Amedeo Modigliani).

A teacher in France sued Facebook after the social network deleted his account after posting a picture of Gustave Courbet’s « The Origins of the World, » a 19th century painting that focuses on a woman’s vagina. In 2018, the court ruled that Facebook was at fault, but did not award the plaintiff any damages. And in 2016 a politician in Denmark said she could not post a link to her blog on Facebook because the post contained a photo of « The Little Mermaid, » a public sculpture in Copenhagen that appears to be showing too much skin for the standards of the social network .

Ms. Kociu said that Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms for identifying works of art have improved in recent years. She was surprised by the platforms’ decision to block video advertising with “lovers” and a nude self-portrait by Schiele.

In such cases, there is nothing left but to send a complaint to the platform. « Sometimes it’s depressing, » said Ms. Kociu. « People can decide whether they like the artwork or not, but not being able to show them because of an algorithm is strange. »

The situation for contemporary artists is even worse, said Kettner. « Young artists rely on online channels, » he said. “We think and feel that there is a kind of unconscious self-censorship going on in the brains of these artists. ‘What can I post?’ This is even more serious. The algorithm is suddenly able to determine our cultural heritage for tomorrow. « 

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