Kim Kardashian’s bare bottom may not have “broken the Internet” Wednesday, but it certainly appears to have broken Instagram’s moderation queue.
Her butt — and boobs — and faux-surprised naked face — are plastered wall-to-wall on the #Kardashian hashtag. Her full-frontals lie in wait on many a Facebook page, pouncing without so much as a NSFW warning whenever the unsuspecting user scrolls.
It’s not surprising, of course, that the salacious photos are making the rounds, but it seems a little odd on Facebook and Instagram, given that both those networks have taken adamant, controversial anti-nudity stances. Just two weeks ago, comedienne Chelsea Handler ran afoul of the Instagram censors when she posted a picture of herself topless to mock Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the wake of the Kardashian photo shoot, Handler mooned her bathroom mirror and posted that to Instagram, too.
“Just so I’m clear, Instagram,” she wrote. “It’s ok to use nudity to sexualize yourself on your site, but not to make a joke? I’m just so confused.”
Handler is, by all accounts, not the only one bewildered. The nudity policies on Facebook and Instagram remain one of the most misunderstood — and most controversial — guidelines on both sites, in part because their enforcement seems so erratic.
There was, for instance, the British mother whose breastfeeding photo was taken down just last month. (Facebook officially allows breastfeeding photos, even when both breasts are exposed.) Or the woman who was temporarily banned from the site for posting a Coppertone-style picture of her toddler with her butt exposed. Or the French art museum punished for posting a historical nude photograph, purportedly in violation of Facebook’s policy.
“We will post no more nudes, even if we think that their artistic value is great,” the museum said.
But now that we’re confronted with Kim, in all her oddly greasy glory, the censors seem to … no longer care.
In all likelihood, however, it’s not the caring that’s the problem — it’s the fact that moderators are individual people clicking through thousands of pieces of reported content, trying to apply abstract standards to uncomfortably concrete boobs and butts and genitals. Facebook and Instagram both say that nudity is off-limits, except for a narrow band of non-graphic and clearly non-sexual content: post-mastectomy pictures, for instance, or images of women breastfeeding. Both networks also say that they’re okay with nudity in art, provided it isn’t pornographic.
In between those two poles, though — sexual and not sexual, graphic and not graphic — there are many, many shades of gray. So essentially, Facebook charges its moderators with a very difficult task: grappling, as individuals, with questions of morality and sexuality and propriety that we haven’t even solved as a society. Is the body inherently sexual? When is nudity art? Does a full-frontal nude of Kim Kardashian serve any purpose besides … the more obvious ones?
You get the idea.
However you personally answer those questions, it seems inevitable that some bumps and discrepancies will result. It also seems clear that, on the matter of Kim’s booty, at least, Facebook and Instagram have ruled: It’s okay.
It looks like Chelsea Handler might get a pass on this one, too: A full day after she posted it, her personal rear view is, for better or worse, still very much online.