Nudity on FriendFeed: What Are Some Sensible Rules?

An interesting issue cropped up on FriendFeed. Nudity. Specifically, some of the Flickr pictures that come through on FriendFeed contain topless or fully nude models. It’s an interesting tension between user generated content and community norms.

This is an issue that has been raised numerous times in the United States, where community norms are more conservative. Europe seems to have been celebrating the human body since the Renaissance.

On FriendFeed, there’s a good discussion around a (not safe for work) set of Flickr favorites by Michael Hocter. The set includes pictures of topless and nude models.

There were several people applying ‘Likes’ to the set, including me. Hey, I liked the pictures, what can I say? They are artistic and beautiful.

The way FriendFeed works is what has caused some discomfort. If you subscribe to Michael Hocter, you’ll see his photos come through your feed. If you don’t subscribe, you won’t see his pictures initially…

Until someone to whom you subscribe Likes or Comments on them. Then they hit your FriendFeed stream via the friend-of-friend feature. As Michael Hocter himself says:

I photograph nudes, so I tend to favorite nudes on Flickr. A lot of them don’t show up here because most of us nude photographers mark our photos Moderate or Restricted. But sometimes when the photographer doesn’t do that, they end up here. I’m sure the majority of people who subscribe to my feed are aware of it and don’t mind, but the friend-of-a-friend feature is problematic.

This problem is somewhat unique to FriendFeed. You can publish photos on Facebook, but only people who are your friends will see them.

One female FriendFeeder who is subscribed to me, edythe, had this comment with regard to the photos:

yeah, i have some mixed feelings about the topless women. we had a discussion a couple of weeks ago about nudity appearing in flickr favorites. no one liked it when it was male nudity. I don’t object to this. i just have mixed feelings about it. (yes, i know i can hide it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Being an adult means you get to see things that you wouldn’t have when you were a child. I don’t want Victorian winds blowing through the feeds on FriendFeed. But I also recognize that there are sensible guidelines that govern the type of pictures that are appropriate.

A Few of My Own Guidelines

So I propose a few guidelines for nudity on FriendFeed:

I know it when I see it. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about hard-core pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Both content submitters and those who Like or Comment need to use some common sense as to what constitutes porn. It’s particularly incumbent on those who Like and Comment to be reasonable.

Artistic vs. exploitive. This is one that probably varies by person, and really good arguments can be made on both sides. Here’s one way of thinking about it. Michael Hocter photos = artistic. Penthouse photos = exploitive. Playboy pictures = in the eye of the beholder. Want a better description of artistic? Here’s female photographer Dawn M. Armfield:

I don’t photograph nudes (obvious to anyone who follows my photography), but I really appreciate great nude photography, male or female. The contours of the human body are just as beautiful as any other shapes we photograph.

Sexual acts. Nope, don’t go there. Over the line.

Gender. Male or female models.

Anatomy. All normally visible parts of the human body (e.g. no goatse).

Frequency. Oh, this is a good one. If you’re an originator of content (e.g. Flickr favorites), I don’t think there should be any restrictions on how often you add content. Fire away as much as you want. If you’re a Liker or Commenter, use common sense in your frequency. Your subscribers probably aren’t looking for a high volume of nudity. If they want that, they can subscribe to the originator.

Don’t Be Afraid to Like or Comment. One of the great things about FriendFeed is you can give feedback to content submitters. I just said that Likes and Comments shouldn’t be overly frequent. But don’t stop giving feedback altogether…that would be another form of censorship.

Use the Hide function. Those who are offended by nudity should make good use of the Hide function. Assuming folks follow some of the guidelines above, the initial view of the pictures hopefully won’t cause cardiac arrest. After the initial shock, click that Hide link. No more of the offending pictures.

Final Thoughts

The hell if I know whether these make sense to others. I’m not a First Amendment public policy expert. I’m not a professional photographer. I’m not a woman who might feel excluded or offended by interaction around these pictures. But they make sense to me, a regular dude.

What do you think?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.


About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

13 Responses to Nudity on FriendFeed: What Are Some Sensible Rules?

  1. Robin Cannon says:

    Good article and an overlooked point. You provide some good advice but the crux for me is that it’s just advice. For any kind of widespread service, if you’re reliant on your community to self police then you’re in trouble.

    That’s particularly true on the internet where, as you point out, community mores are less conservative but also (and strongly connected to to the fact) because there’s no real consequence for irresponsible action.

    How do you extend that behaviour on a wider scale if you want FriendFeed itself to extend beyond a niche market? Until there is some kind of automated policing – with all the pitfalls that are possible there – the problems you point out are going to be unavoidable.

  2. Good article Hutch.

    Here’s something to think about though, I use friendfeed in a very corporate office and when that came up I had to very quickly flick.

    The problem is a corporate workplace makes no distinction. No naked people. Full stop.

    There should be a “safe mode”. Otherwise, it would be difficult to move it into the enterprise.

  3. Alan Bond says:

    only in America!

  4. Alexandre says:

    How can seeing a beautiful women naked *offend* someone?
    It’s not pornography here, it’s art. I really don’t see where the problem is. Plus, the web is a global thing, it’s not american (wikipedia tells me that the world wide web is a french/swiss project).
    Beautiful pictures, btw.

  5. I hardly find the images offensive. I take a libertarian stance on this… we live in world where those using FriendFeed or other social media applications/sites can opt-in or opt-out of what they want to see, read or share. If you happen to be an individual who is offended or cannot view such images freely then opt-out of receiving such images or the feed of the person in question. I really don’t see what the big to do is about this.

  6. kenlefeb says:

    Personally, I tend to agree with Jim Goldstein. If nudity offends you, learn to use “Hide” and/or “Unsubscribe.”

    Perhaps FriendFeed could add some logic to their Flickr integration to enforce the adult material rating on feeds and add a little bit of javascript to hide anything coming from an adult rated photostream, requiring a click to expand it for those who agree to view such material. I am not familiar with Flickr’s API, but it doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult to implement.

  7. Flickr does enforce their safety rating system in feeds, and Flickr feeds only include photos that the original poster designated as “safe”. Nude photos that I post to my own photostream are marked as “moderate” and do not appear in Flickr feeds. My Flickr account is deemed safe because I am a good self-moderator.

    In the case of these photos, however, the photographers obviously left them with a “safe” designation (which is the default).

    I don’t think Hutch’s suggested guidelines, which basically amount to community self-moderation, work very well, and I know they will not scale as the FriendFeed community grows. I think FriendFeed needs to figure this out somehow, but it’s a tricky subject and very difficult to satisfy everyone.

  8. @Michael, @Robin – you guys are right, this is just advice. There are two thing I wanted to accomplish in this post: (1) temperature check people on the acceptability of nudity on FriendFeed; (2) point out to anyone who is offended by it that there ways to control viewing it. And I do think self-policing still has a place in this process.

  9. @Jonathan – the work thing is a really good point. Thumbnails do provide a bit of a fig leaf. Along with a quick click of Hide. The frequency of nudity isn’t that high, so hopefully it’s a controllable issue during use of FriendFeed at work.

  10. @Jim, @kenlefeb – I’m more in the libertarian camp on this one as well. I wrote this to suggest that users have the power to control the experience without heavy safeguards.

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  12. denbagus says:

    Photography is the art of reproducing pictures of people, objects or places in their exact likeness. The backbone of photography is the camera, the instrument or device that works on the principle of optics.

  13. Sorry, but I beg to disagree with Alan Bond. Not only is this happening in America, all throughout the internet world. I’ll leave everyone a tip. If you are not comfortable seeing these things, just click the “Report” button. The back end will do the work. ๐Ÿ™‚

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