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Pins and Wheedles —

July 31, 2013

Warning: The red and bold links are to NSFW images. Keepin’ it PG on the surface to make it readable for more people.

Social media sites are as unique as they are ubiquitous. Although Pinterest and Tumblr are essentially image-sharing platforms, they’ve both taken a divergent approach to nudity and pornography. While Tumblr is the Wild West of image sharing, where porn roams free like a herd of horny buffalo, Pinterest seeks to rein in anything not safe for work (NSFW).

Tumblr relies almost entirely on self-regulation to enforce decency via users who call out and shame those who post inappropriate or offensive material. Of course, those who post offensive materials are free to fire right back and defend their right to post whatever the hell they want. This makes Tumblr seem a bit shouty at times, with progressive activists screaming at hate-spewing trolls and vice versa. Meanwhile, Pinterest rules with a heavy hand, removing anything that doesn’t suit its genteel, refined tastes. If Pinterest is an elegant tea room, Tumblr is a mosh pit. And users rightfully choose the social media environment that best suits them.

At least that’s how I thought it all worked, until I stumbled upon this tweet from a woman named Anna who runs a Body Positive board on Pinterest. It included the following letter with Anna’s response:

Pinterest Letter

I was curious why Pinterest was threatening Anna, so I asked if she had examples of the photos that were removed. She provided two (1, 2). For those at work, I’ll describe: both are photos of nude plus-sized models in the traditional sense (size 10-14), but whose nipples are covered. You can see the sides of their buttocks, but not the prime meridian. They’re what people generally call “tasteful nudes.”

In the past, I’ve confronted the nudity double standards of Facebook because there was a clear discrepancy in how the apply their policies based on the size of the subjects. Multiple tasteful nudes of fat women had been removed for violating FB’s terms, yet when I reported comparable tasteful nudes of thin women, Facebook did not remove them. In the end, I was able to determine that Facebook would allow full-frontal nudity, so long as you Photoshop flesh-colored pasties barely over a woman’s areola and vulva.

But that’s Facebook, where enforcement of its “standards” has always been unreliable and hypocritical. Given its reputation, I had assumed Pinterest was an open-and-shut case: you see nudity, you report it, it’s gone.

Just to be sure, I began searching for naked pictures on Pinterest. Sure enough, when you search for “naked” on Pinterest, you get the following reminder at the top of the search results:


And when you go to Pinterest’s brief etiquette page, you find the following:

Pinning EtiquetteSo Pinterest is pretty clear in that it doesn’t allow “photographs displaying breasts, buttocks or genitalia,” which explains why Anna’s two photos were violations. And indeed, searching for nude photos on Pinterest turns out to be rather difficult. But not that difficult.

Start with a search for “nude photos” and you find quite a few, including this photo with a caption that reads “This isn’t a nude photo. Someone flagged it up, pinterest took it down, got into an investigation, and the resolution made by Pinterest is that this photo doesn’t contain any nudity.” I’ve found boards that feature artistic nude photography and photo-realistic nude art, as well as tastefully nude photos of thin women with music notes superimposed on their bodies that are nearly identical to the one Anna had removed. You can find nude Bettie Page photos, as well as modern nudes, although most of these galleries feature more bathing suits and underwear than full-on nudity.

To me, this suggests that Pinterest is playing whack-a-mole with nude photos. They want to enforce a certain level of decency, but they can’t keep up with the content. I can definitely sympathize with that. If only they had a system for reporting offensive photos, like Facebook, then perhaps…

But wait, they do!

They have a flagging mechanism, whereby you can inform Pinterest moderators of nudity or pornography. And so, on July 11, the day I saw Anna’s tweet, I began a test. After combing Pinterest for nude photos, I found both tasteful nudes and hardcore porn. I flagged both. Over the next few weeks, Pinterest deleted all 11 accounts I flagged for posting hardcore porn, as well as the 6 photos that featured full frontal nudity.

And yet they have not deleted three accounts (1, 2, 3) that still have boards featuring topless and/or bottomless women who are posing in the same coy, “tastefully nude” manner as Anna’s deleted photos. Likewise, I flagged 10 tastefully nude photos individually that also weren’t deleted (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

Compare all 10 acceptable nudes with Anna’s unacceptable nudes and you see a distinct pattern: thinner bodies don’t get censored, while heavier bodies do. This is pretty galling, considering the fact that Pinterest has been threatening to disable Anna’s account over photos that would otherwise be ignored if the models were a more traditional size.

If Pinterest wants to block nudity from its site, more power to them. But they need to apply the standard consistently for all body types and not send the message that some bodies are acceptable, while others are not. I gave Pinterest 20 days to apply the standard consistently and they chose to ignore a nearly-identical set of photos with one distinct difference: the models I flagged were demonstrably thin.

Unlike Tumblr, Pinterest has been a safe haven for body positivity, where trolls are virtually non-existent and Pinners enthusiastically spread encouragement and reassurance that ALL BODIES ARE GOOD BODIES. Fostering this kind of environment where people can safely stake out their self-worth without having to rely on the “ignore them, avoid them, fight them or rise above them” approach to dealing with trolls. For that, Pinterest deserves our enthusiastic support. But unless Pinterest wants to drive off Body Acceptance advocates, they need to pick a nudity standard and stick with it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2013 8:16 pm

    “Pinterest has been a safe haven for body positivity, where trolls are virtually non-existent…”

    Where pinners have the option to delete troll comments.

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