Statement on Censorship: E-viction
Instagram’s censorship of Veil Machine’s account is a blatant example of the overbroad harm caused by the privatization of our online spaces, and the censorship that accompanies it. Our account is a digital performance art piece and political action about censorship of sex workers in online spaces. Despite featuring nothing more salacious than a pixelated drawing of a lingerie-clad person, @veilmachine has been subject to consistent, quick, and arbitrary censorship by Instagram.
Within two hours of putting up our first posts, one was taken down for “nudity or sexual activity.” That image was a graphic of a blue computer screen in the aesthetic of Microsoft Windows in the early 90’s. Our suspicion is that one of the “folders” on the graphic labeled with the words “live nude hotties” was considered unseemly. When we posted a pixelated version of this image, along with further censored text, the image was taken down yet again.
The first image was removed by Instagram.
Then, a performer profile of the Pro-Dominant Amazon Maddox was taken down for supposedly containing graphic imagery, despite the fact that they were fully clothed in the photo. Since then, several new performer photos have been removed by Instagram. None of them showcase any nudity. We suspect our graphics have been flagged by their algorithm, and that this will continue indefinitely, regardless of the fact that we never knowingly violated Instagram’s arbitrary and arcane community standards.
The first is the image of Maddox that was removed. The second and third are two other performer profile posts (of Messy Darla, and (m)Other respectively) that were later taken down.
We began this project as a way to shed light on the impossible conditions that sex workers are living under in the wake of SESTA/FOSTA, a piece of legislation from 2018. It was pushed through using the rhetoric of stopping sex trafficking, but its actual purpose is push sex workers off the internet. We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve woken up to find yet another member of our community removed from this, that, or the other digital platform, with no recourse. Despite the rhetoric of SESTA/FOSTA “saving” victims, it has effectively muzzled an entire population. This harm is multiplied in the age of COVID-19, since the only safe public spaces are online.
SESTA/FOSTA is only one part of a larger throughline of the privatization and gentrification of the internet. Another part is the EARN-IT Act, which is being pushed through now, in the midst of the pandemic. EARN-IT effectively seeks to end encryption as we know it today, once again under the guise of protecting victims of sex trafficking. These bills have devastating consequences for internet freedom, privacy, and free speech, turning the utopian possibility of cyberspace into a dystopian nightmare.
To avoid censorship, sex workers deploy a host of creative tactics, sharing strategies and doing research. Everyday, we navigate online spaces that are actively hostile to our presence. We are forced to work, commune, and resist online despite being targets of pervasive surveillance and deplatforming. Because we are in the crosshairs of this attack on public digital space, we’ve also been on the front lines of the fight for a better digital future. Our project is an expression of that wisdom and creativity.