…And Your Little Cat, Too

So dapper!
Captain Pancakes is a dapper gentleman. Photo: Gracie Hagen

How does a “semi internet famous cat” named Captain Pancakes violate Facebook’s terms of service? When he happens to be owned by a photographer who uses Facebook to promote her work.

Gracie Hagen is a nationally-lauded, Chicago-based photographer behind the incredible body-image comparison project Illusions of the Body (NSFW). But last Thursday, she discovered that Facebook had decided to delete… her. Not just her professional photography page, but also her personal profile and, inexplicably, the page for her aforementioned cat, the smooshily-adorable Captain Pancakes.

Hagen says she has been flagged on Facebook a few times before, sometimes for her art and sometimes not. “This most recent time however, I don’t even know what it was for or who flagged me,” she noted. So how did her profiles come to be deleted?

While some of Hagen’s work does depict nudity, Facebook’s own guidelines do state that artistic nudity is allowed. “The baseline in America is that nudity equals pornography and is shameful,” she says. “Nothing about how I shoot my subjects was sexual in nature; it was to document the body type and the person. It all comes down to the way Americans misperceive bodies.”

While a nudity complaint isn’t necessarily the only possible explanation, it’s as good a guess as any since Facebook’s enforcement of its own Community Standards remains a near-mystery. COO Sheryl Sandberg herself apologized last week for Facebook’s deletion of an historic Vietnam War photograph of screaming children running from a napalm attack, taken by AP photographer Nick Ut in 1972. Upon discovering that the image had been deleted from several accounts (including her own), Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg “accused Facebook of censorship and of editing history.”

“These are difficult decisions and we don’t always get it right,” Sandberg responded in a letter to the Norwegian PM.  “Even with clear standards, screening millions of posts on a case-by-case basis every week is challenging.”

Challenging, certainly, but one would think not impossible for a sprawlingly-all-knowing entity such as Facebook. Such inconsistency and lack of transparency in the standards, reporting tools, and support systems of social media platforms not only make censorship and history-erasure easier, they also make it possible to destroy communities that have been years in the making, seemingly on a whim.

As social media has grown to be interwoven with our daily lives, so has it been vital to artists in self-promotion. “If you’re not present online, you seem less relevant, less reliable,” the artist said. “It begs the question, ‘How can we as artists, make it in a world where the Internet is so necessary yet it sets you up for failure?’”

Naturally, Hagen appealed the deletion of her entire presence from Facebook. She received only boilerplate emails in reply. “It’s just frustrating and makes me sort of not want to use [Facebook] anymore.”

All three profiles were eventually restored on Tuesday, but they reappeared only after Chicagoist reached out to Facebook for explanation. Hagen herself received no notification when the profiles had been restored.

“The reactivation of my accounts I find interesting/troubling. I wonder how many other artists are deleted that don’t have access to these resources or networking opportunities.”

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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