Check out an online art exhibit about the censored and shadowcasters

ByJames I. Robertson

Jun 29, 2022

Censorship of marginalized voices on social media is as old as social media itself.

But such incidents often happen to individuals who feel powerless to change what happened and who have little knowledge of the extent of failed moderation algorithms and questionable human decisions.

However, a new project by British photographer Rankin called the unseen aims to give strength in numbers to those who are silenced, by bringing together the individual stories of hundreds of people who have been censored or banished from the shadows.

“While art and outrage have always been somewhat synonymous, in simpler times the debate over what was deemed ‘acceptable’ was much slower and I think more open,” says Rankin (in his real name: John Rankin Waddell) by e-mail.

RankinRankin Photography Ltd.

“But with the online world, those decisions are made behind a curtain, and often not by empathetic human beings but by AI,” he adds. “Algorithms end up depriving creatives, individuals, and even some brands of an audience before they’ve even had a chance to be seen – hence the unseen.”

The project was born from a documentary on social media and its impact on society in general by Hunger magazine, edited by the Rankin Creative agency. “There was one line in particular that we felt was not really true,” says Luke Lasenby, creative at the Rankin agency. “It was: ‘We don’t need an intermediary to broadcast an image. When the image resonates, it resonates.’”

So Lasenby and his colleague Opal Turner, who works with the online disability community, set out to highlight the issue in a more nuanced way. “Media platforms are a tool, and they can be used right or wrong,” says Turner. “Censorship is a tool that can be used correctly and incorrectly.” Both Lasenby and Turner felt that social media platforms — as well as society as a whole — could learn from their past missteps to change their approach to content.

“We had naively planned to do a double page on the issue in Hunger,“says Turner. But the public response to an Instagram post calling on fans to share their experiences with online censorship and moderation has touched a nerve. To date, Rankin Creative has received over 350 submissions from aggrieved social media users.

These submissions are hosted on THE INVISIBLE website, accompanied by interviews with the subjects. There are, unsurprisingly, many sex workers who have been censored. Also, there are people like Mesha Moiniradwho has a colostomy bag, and Talk to Coco, half of a black LGBTQ+ couple who say they’ve been banned by major tech platforms. Another participant, Lakynreceived a content ban by TikTok for showing a scar related to his disability.

Talk to CocoTalk to Coco

“It’s about giving a voice to people who have been unfairly left out,” says Lasenby.

Thirteen of the 350 respondents were invited to be photographed by Rankin himself for a recent IRL exhibition at London’s Quantus Gallery, intended to highlight the inequity of censorship.

Among them was Dr. Carolina Are, an innovation researcher at Northumbria University, UK, investigates the link between online abuse and censorship. (To input previously wrote about Are’s run-ins with overly censorious TikTok moderators, who struggled to come to terms with Are’s hobby: pole dancing.)

His reasoning for participating was simple. “It’s all well and good to publish research on this stuff,” Are says. “But for research to have an impact, it needs to be translated into something visible and accessible to everyone. It’s also fucking cool to be photographed by such an iconic photographer.

Tessa Kuragi, a model from London, was another person Rankin photographed for the project. “I’ve been on Instagram for several years now, but I would say over the past two years I’ve noticed a lot more of my photos being flagged,” she says. When she appealed against their blocking, about 80% were reinstated after examination. Kuragi says she wrote five Instagram posts appealing her image takedowns, none of which received a response.

In early June, Kuragi’s entire Instagram account — which mixed images of her modeling clothes with the fact that she wasn’t wearing any at all — was suspended for repeated rule violations. She rallied support from her fans and friends to report the account as missing to Instagram, and it was reinstated on June 19. When she spoke to To input by June 21, it had been deleted again.

Tessa Kuragi (@tessa__kuragi/@kuragitessa)Ruan van der Sande

“My modeling and art work is not my main job,” she says. “I have another job, thankfully, but that means the modeling side of things is massively impacted.” She says an American brand that approached her to do paid promotional work pulled out when she realized earlier that she was shadowbanned. “It’s huge,” she said.

Kuragi responded to Rankin’s call on social media because she had already been photographed by him. She’s still not sure why she’s repeatedly received what she thinks are automated content warnings, but one of the messages she frequently receives when a photo is taken down is that she’s broken the rules. on sexual solicitation.

She says she spoke to someone who has a friend who works on Facebook (who owns Instagram) who said that any slightly sexy post with tagged people was considered solicitation. So she spent hours deleting account tags on every post, even though it removes the ability to credit the photographers and makeup artists she works with.

“Massive” problem

“There have been social media campaigns before, and they’ve usually focused on a marginalized group,” says Turner. (To input previously reported on the activism of fat black women who feel they have been unfairly targeted by Instagram.) “Our point was this is huge, this is huge. Groups that you think of, Surely you are not yet marginalized online? Newsflash: We absolutely are. »

This is something we find particularly powerful about the unseen. “I think there’s a bigger problem with people only caring about censorship when it affects them,” she says, “but the censorship of nudity and the body started with FOSTA SESTA and now affects everyone. For Are, unity is strength. “Only by doing something really big and really mainstream, bringing everyone together, do we have power.”

For Are, seeing all the photographs of these people at the Quantus Gallery was a highlight. “It has an offline effect,” she says. “Seeing that in a real play was something. It was a way to bridge the physical and the digital and show how they fit together.

“We want this project to spark a productive conversation,” Rankin says. “It’s not about pointing fingers and being accusatory. We invite these online platforms and the entire industry to join the discussion, with those affected, in order to find public and community solutions.

Rankin hopes a panel discussion he moderated at the massive Cannes Lions creative marketing festival earlier this month will help start the conversation with the big tech platforms behind many of the issues users face. “By joining forces to shed light on unfair online censorship practices,” he says, “we can work together to make the unseen seen and make existing and future technologies fairer.

This is also what Kuragi wants to happen. “It’s a huge problem, and I think INVISIBLE reflects the scale of the problem, rather than individuals trying to talk about something,” she says. “Hopefully this will force a review, as I don’t think the current way of working is working.”

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