Tiffany Cole

NAME: Tiffany Cole
PLATFORM & USERNAME: @tiffanycole
CENSORSHIP: Shadow & Content Ban

What reason was given for your ban?

Sexual solicitation and Nudity.

Why do you think your post(s) was censored?

Machines have been set up to mindlessly suppress or delete the female-presenting body. Although per Instagrams guidelines Nudity in art is “ok” and despite the fact that they make billions a year off of us they have no dedicated system to ensure artists are able to present their works without being constantly suppressed.

Were you able to appeal and what was the response?

Yes. Most were instantly “reviewed” and the deletions remained.

What effect has your experience of censorship had on you?

I wrote an essay about this on my @tiffanycole Instagram.

Dear Instagram & Twitter,

Hi. Hello? I’m probably speaking to a machine. The only source of customer service your users have access to. This machine is powerful. It decides the fate of creators every day. Will they be able to keep sharing? To keep paying their bills? To thrive in their art? It’s a big responsibility you’ve trained these machines to have.

A little about myself. Several years ago I became extremely ill. That illness lasted over a year and I lost everything; my job, my relationship, my sanity. I was completely lost. I moved to the middle of nowhere to recover and start to explore my mind in hopes I could heal it, and it would heal my body. Along this journey, I started doodling.

It was so soothing for me. About a year and a half into this journey I started to get better and moved back to the city and restarted my life. I couldn’t stop drawing. It consumed me. I had a purpose, a purpose to create. I taught myself to draw from YouTube and from connecting with other artists I met on Instagram.

It was such a great community full of the most talented people on earth. I couldn’t get enough. Within a few years, I built an art career. I poured everything I had into it. My followers grew, and I could finally support myself by doing something I was beyond passionate about. It wasn’t easy by any means but I was determined that I would never go back to a miserable life I hated for security. I was an artist and this was my purpose for living.

Over the past several years Instagram and Twitter have become an artist’s business card. A place to show our work, to put food on our tables and to live our dreams.

I draw the human form, a practice that has been done for thousands of years. A study of this incredible flesh we all occupy.  After years of building my art business, things started to change. I remember the first notification I got from Instagram stating my drawings of the female form were deemed porn. A pencil drawing of a woman sitting on a chair. My account was threatened with deletion if I posted another creation. All those years I spent up all night practising my craft, countless hours learning. It looked too real.

I couldn’t sleep. Years of connections to my collectors, my friends, and my communication lines to 10s of thousands. Cut instantly. I tried to reach out and find a real person to talk to but I couldn’t. There wasn’t a way. I was determined. I stayed up all night researching and found that amazingly there was just a meeting at Instagram where a few figurative artists were invited to talk about this very subject. Such a lucky coincidence. I reached out to them and got a response back. I was lucky. I got a line indirectly to Instagram. I was told it was unlikely now that my Instagram would be deleted, but my contact couldn’t be sure. Success?

What I didn’t know was that my account along with millions of other artists would be shadowbanned instead.

Not shared with new people, our work is only shown to 3-8% of our followers, not show up in hashtags. Not a cut cord to our lines to the world. But a slow suppression. Over the next few years, I would begin to get messages from artists all over the world whose accounts were wrongly deleted. Of course, we did not violate the terms of service, we were painting and drawing a human form. But there was no recourse. One of the artists that inspired me to start drawing lost his account at nearly a million followers. He didn’t have his account for nearly half a year and had no way and no ability to speak to anyone at the platform. As soon as I found out I reached out to my contact and we got his account back. It was exciting. A small win.

But then these messages of wrongful deletion started coming to me daily and it was overwhelming. I started to think about these artists who were on their fifth or sixth Instagram page. I wondered if there were figurative artists out there who just stopped drawing the human form altogether. So much of the art world is on Instagram so why create something that cuts your reach. That makes you fail. I hoped this wasn’t happening. I wrote a bit about it in a post one day and in floated the messages from artists doing just that. Censoring the love and passion they had for this beautiful art form because they just couldn’t grow on this platform that had become important to their careers, they felt.

6 months ago I was again struck with illness. Unable to leave home I was devastated. But as that happened there was a seismic shift in the art world. NFTs. NFTs have become a new way for artists to take control of their work and share it with the world all from their computers. I dusted off the Twitter I never used and started sharing my work. The posts went viral some with 10s of thousands of likes. It was incredible! Finally, I could post my work and it would actually be shared to new people without the restraints put on by Instagram. The NFT community is amazing. We are all buzzing with excitement and curiosity over this new space in the metaverse. I wondered though if this was real..could I really post my work without fear?

I made a post about it a few days ago and my fellow artists assured me this was a safe space where we didn’t have to worry about such things. I checked my notifications that night and there it was, a comment by a man about my work. “Why are you drawing a woman’s body naked? This is porn.” I worried this single user would go through my profile and report my work. That my new place to be free and create and build and support myself would once again be taken away. I woke up this morning, opened Twitter and there is was. “Your account has been suspended for pornography. “ I ran to my computer and read every line of Twitters TOS. ‘Exceptions can be made for artistic content’.

Per Twitter Pornography is described as media that is ‘intended to cause sexual arousal. Sex has nothing to do with my work. This is offensive. I contested it but I immediately received an email back that it was denied and if I posted it again my account would be deleted. They told me that I needed to delete my banner picture which included a drawing of the human form. If I agreed to delete my banner I could log into my account again after a few days. But with this deletion, I would agree that I had violated their terms of service. I had not violated their terms of service.

So what am I to do?

I’ve written them countless emails that most likely will not be read. Should I give in? And agree to something that’s not true in order to have my voice back, my income back? Cut my art up and only show a knee or an elbow in my banner. Censor myself?

“Censorship is saying: ‘I’m the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.’ But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word – even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.”

Ai Weiwei

What’s one thing you want people to know about this topic?

For better or worse Instagram has become a major part of the art world. It is our virtual gallery and many buyers and galleries check an artist’s following before booking for shows, buying etc. When artists are constantly suppressed and deleted they naturally change their work in order to have a voice and stop this vicious cycle. In that way, Instagram is sanitizing art and dissuading artists’ voices.