Social media's nudity guidelines are out of control.
The battle for the soul of the internet, an inherently soulless place, has found a new frontier. Political misinformation, hate speech, shit posting and trolling have long been the main focus of cleaning up the web, but with little resolution or regulation. Social media platforms have statistically found anger and hate to be profitable, and their complacency in allowing the stoking of division is a problem that has yet to be solved. The one place they do seem to unrepentantly put their foot down though, across most platforms, is nudity. Facebook, TikTok and Instagram all have pretty strident anti-nudity rules, and enforce them fiercely. But on these visually-motivated platforms, where is art supposed to exist?
The free exposure and marketing opportunities that apps like Instagram provide are crucial to many artists’ and art institutions livelihoods, but where are they supposed to go when their work is considered too lewd to post? Relatively innocuous contemporary images get labeled “explicit” and taken down all of the time, and now that the practice has pushed into censoring classic and historical art, museums are fighting back. The first public dust up between big social media and big art was when a self-described “artivist,” Laura Ghianda, posted an image to Facebook of the Venus of Willendorf in 2017, only to have it deemed “pornographic” and taken down. After backlash, a Facebook spokesperson told the AFP, “Facebook's policies do not allow depictions of nudity or even suggested nudity. However, we make an exception for statues, which is why the post should have been approved.”
Vienna’s Natural History Museum, which houses what they defended was an iconic archeological object from the early stone age, has found the apology hollow. Censorship has continued — like when the Albertina’s TikTok account was suspended for publishing Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki’s pictures. The collective art museums of Vienna will now be moving their social media to OnlyFans, where nudity reigns supreme. The campaign titled “Vienna Laid Bare” is being promoted by the Vienna Tourism Board, which wants a home for its art online, especially during pandemic-addled times where international tourism is down. In a statement, the board declared that the works that will be on OnlyFans “are among the casualties of this new wave of prudishness — with nude statues and famous artworks blacklisted under social media guidelines.” Some works that will be showcased by artists like Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl, Amedeo Modigliani and Koloman Moser were considered scandalous when they were originally made 100 or so years ago, unfortunately proving that our antiquated relationship with puritanical arbitration is alive and well.
While Austrian art houses finding a home at a pervasive, popular, but also sometimes stigmatized platform like OnlyFans is delicious art world gossip, it also points to how complex the online fight against nudity really is. It was only weeks ago that OnlyFans caused a massive uproar by announcing that they themselves would be banning explicit content and nudity. Being a site that was built on the backs of sex workers, the extreme backlash was valid and important discourse on the continued vilifying of sex work. OnlyFans quickly reversed course though, and not only continued to allow nudity, but discounted their usage fees as an apology for the lost wages their announcement caused its users.
Incorporating “Vienna Laid Bare” into the platform’s offerings adds an opposing spin to OnlyFans’ initial shunning of their nude creators. It speaks to another art world meets pornography dust up this summer, when PornHub released its campaign “Classic Nudes,” in which amateur porn duo MySweetApple recreated lascivious artworks from some of the world’s most prestigious galleries, leading to legal action from both the Louvre and the Uffizi Gallery, citing copyright infringement, but really just not wanting to be associated with porn. While “Vienna Laid Bare” seeks to nestle classic art right alongside porn, at the time “Classic Nudes” was trying to derive pornographic inspiration from classic art. Both are valid ways for historical art and our modern world to interact, but they seem to ruffle feathers regardless, either because of intellectual elitism in the case of “Classic Nudes” or basic prudishness in the case of “Vienna Laid Bare.” Where porn and art respectively belong online, and their relationships to one another, are questions that will take time to answer—but for now you can subscribe to fine art and fine porn all in one place, making OnlyFans a continued pioneer of less censored social media.