With the highly publicized Twitter suspension of the Soska Sisters, larger outlets such as Fangoria and Rue Morgue have started taking an interest in the ongoing genre embargo on social media. While their coverage has been more peripheral, feeding into the marketing blitz that the high profile suspension has given birth to, it does bring the conversation about horror content back into the forefront. Well aware of the Zuckerbergian Censorship on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, it’s time to start digging into the policies of every major social media platform to find out if anywhere is truly safe for horror.
Twitter has long been a safe haven for horror creators, not because their rules are any more lax than other platforms, but because their enforcement of those rules is sporadic. Both horror genre and adult entertainment industries have been able to thrive to some extent on the platform because their rules aren’t as stringently enforced. This has started to change, however, in the wake of the Christchurch Massacre. For those with a short memory, in Christchurch, New Zealand in February, armed terrorists live streamed their assault on a mosque and several innocent people across Facebook and Instagram. This resulted in social media companies cracking down on violent content but not on the ideologies supporting violence against others.
Remember, Zuck thinks horror is more dangerous than Nazism.
Looking up a number of hashtags --none of which will be shared by us-- you can find real world incidents of criminal and terroristic behavior, violence, sexual assault, and even murder on all of the major social media platforms. I personally reported an image I found during the early days of our investigations into the horror embargo which Instagram, nearly 5 months later, has still not performed any action on. This image, which I will not in the interest of decency share here, was from a video in which a man had been shot in the face with a large caliber rifle. His skull had been completely caved in as the cameraman came in to get a closer look.
Meanwhile, artists creating horror related images for film, television, and even gallery showings are being routinely suspended and having their work removed by these sites. Add to that the insulting inferences made by Instagram that horror content can somehow cause harmful behavior in others and you have a situation in which artists rather than terrorists are being targeted by private corporations.
Twitter’s policies include a subsection on the “Glorification of Violence” added in March of 2019.
“Glorifying violent acts could inspire others to take part in similar acts of violence. Additionally, glorifying violent events where people were targeted on the basis of their protected characteristics (including: race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease) could incite or lead to further violence motivated by hatred and intolerance. For these reasons, we have a policy against content that glorifies acts of violence in a way that may inspire others to replicate those violent acts and cause real offline harm, or events where members of a protected group were the primary targets or victims.”
Let’s look closely at the wording here. I promise, it’s important.
“Glorifying violent acts could inspire others to take part in similar acts of violence… For these reasons, we have a policy against content that glorifies acts of violence in a way that may inspire others to replicate those violent acts and cause real offline harm, or events where members of a protected group were the primary targets or victims.”
So what isn’t a violation of their policy?
“Our focus is on preventing the glorification of violence that could inspire others to replicate violent acts, as well as violent events where protected groups were the primary targets or victims. Exceptions may be made for violent acts by state actors, where violence was not primarily targeting protected groups.”
For those of you wondering, the definition of a state actor is someone “under United States law, a state actor is a person who is acting on behalf of a governmental body, and is therefore subject to regulation under the United States Bill of Rights, including the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit the federal and state governments from violating certain rights and freedoms.” So, cops, soldiers, federal agents, anyone with a government seal of approval to commit acts of violence is excluded from Twitter’s violence policy.
What about artists?
Under the section “Our Enforcement Philosophy” Twitter states:
“Thus, context matters. When determining whether to take enforcement action, we may consider a number of factors, including (but not limited to) whether:
the behavior is directed at an individual, group, or protected category of people;
the report has been filed by the target of the abuse or a bystander;
the user has a history of violating our policies;
the severity of the violation;
the content may be a topic of legitimate public interest.”
“The content may be a topic of legitimate public interest.” Society in the U.S. has become built around the cult of celebrity and the chief export of our nation is entertainment. It would stand to reason that art, film, literature, photography, music, etc… would be “a topic of legitimate public interest.”
Unfortunately, in March Twitter also updated its policy on “Sensitive Media.” “You may not post media that is excessively gory or share violent or adult content within live video or in profile or header images. Media depicting sexual violence and/or assault is also not permitted.”
By the way, that wasn’t me putting it in bold for effect. That’s all Twitter. Basically, this is their policy that allows horror and other adult oriented content to exist on the platform provided it’s hidden away and comes with a warning. Now, Twitter isn’t actively hunting for content that offends and violates their policies but there are plenty of trolls, competitors, and possibly even clever advertisers who are doing it for them.
If Twitter is joining Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, etc... in their persecution of horror content, is there anywhere safe for creators to share their work?
The short answer is “Yes” but with some serious caveats.
To start with, everywhere you go is going to impose some kind of policy against adult content. And, no, adult content doesn’t just mean sex. Horror is adult content and it gets the same treatment as porn from most platforms. They’ll allow it but you have to release it with the same restrictions that adult entertainers and sex workers have to deal with. Even if it is educational content, say a make-up tutorial, you still have to treat it like violent content because of the end result.
Reddit, by far, has the most liberal policies on horror content but the downside is you have to know how to use it. Reddit is the evolution of the old school message board and it’s a fantastic place to actually connect and work within a community. Unfortunately, this is where you’ve got all the gatekeepers and edgelord trolls that will constantly downvote and attack artistic work. It also takes a bit of getting used to if the only social media you’ve ever used has been something like Twitter or Facebook. It’s more work but it’s also more freedom.
As for videos, we know that YouTube is just as hard on independent creators as the major social media platforms, banning and restricting horror content while allowing for rampant piracy and spam. Vimeo is an option but, unfortunately, you have to pay their monthly fees in order to upload more than a gig or so of video each week. Twitch is an option, though the platform itself is designed primarily for gamers as opposed to filmmakers and web hosts.
There are a number of lesser known platforms to switch to and more popping up every few months. Everyone wants to be the next Facebook and very few have the stamina or competency to compete. And even if they did, how long would it be before a larger competitor bought them out or pressure from outside forces and investors imposed the same Puritanical limitations on artists as everywhere else? We have created our best friend and most dangerous enemy in social media. For the first time, every artist can create unencumbered by the stodgy regulations and guidelines of the old guard. Social media has allowed creators the ability to share with wider audiences than they ever could have dreamed of 20 years ago. But that means playing by a new set of ever changing guidelines established by tech companies that can be bought off by major studios and publishers.
Independent creators rarely have large budgets for anything, let alone marketing, which is where promoting themselves and their work on social media has been a godsend. But paid ads, bots, trolls hired by studios, and simple financial pressure put on these platforms by traditional clearinghouses for entertainment and art make it more difficult every day for artists to share their work with an audience unhindered. The rules imposed by social media providers only seem to apply to independents and not the big money players. Even within the horror community, you won’t see players like Fangoria or Blumhouse getting slapped with restrictions the way lesser known names have been.
And that is the crux of the problem.
We could correct so many of these problems if we could get these big name players to join the rest of the community in fighting the continued censorship. Small outlets reporting on the issue, independent artists and filmmakers making noise are important for getting out awareness and trying to start the fire but until the big names start speaking up, no one is going to take this problem seriously.
Meanwhile, the Soskas and their Rabid remake certainly aren't feeling any pain from this temporary suspension from Twitter. Every major and minor horror journalism outlet has written articles and posted a ridiculous amount of social media content since the ban hit earlier this week. There's no such thing as bad publicity. As for the true independents out there, the ones struggling with these bans and suspensions every time they post a new image or release a new video, the battle continues.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan on social media @dotdblog and read his stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.