Both governments and tech giants will likely have the difficult task of wrestling with handling pornography and graphic, explicit images and videos forever — or at least as long as the internet exists. Especially since it is impossible to eradicate pornographic content given the number of dark web channels users can go through to find it. Government entities have mulled over how to handle graphic content since the inception of the web, and various publishers have adopted different approaches. Google is the latest to make changes to its adult content policy, announcing that — as of March 23 — users will not be able to publicly share images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity on Blogger, the company’s public blog platform.
Google does note that nudity will still be allowed “if the content offers a substantial public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.” But blogs that contain sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video will be made private after that date. The content will not be deleted, but it will become visible only to the owner of the blog, administrators of the blog, or people with whom the owner has shared the blog.
The blocking of graphic content is a thorn in the side of more than one social media company. Take Facebook, which struggled to filter out content according to its no-porn policy, removing photos of women breastfeeding in several instances. Blogging platform Tumblr faced a huge user uprising in 2013 when it removed adult and “not-safe-for-work” blogs from its search indices. The company immediately restored that content, and has since remained one of the more laissez-faire networks. Twitter suddenly banned pornographic videos from its six-second video platform Vine last year, but continues to host pornographic photos. U.K.-based media recently found that around 500,000 sexually explicit images are posted to Twitter each day.
Twitter’s move to block content through Vine combined with its hands-off approach to itself has cast the microblogging company into a negative light over the past year as users have come forth to claim that the company did nothing when reports of abuse arose. Indeed, earlier this month, its own CEO Dick Costolo said, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years…It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”
Regardless of how one feels about the existence and perpetual nature of pornographic content on the internet, it is certain that the subject will continue to be a fraught one, even as web companies as massive as Google figure out what to do about it. It reflects the general struggle with censorship on the internet, and the thin line between free speech and injurious content.