It’s finally happened: Google has pledged to remove all Blogger blogs deemed “adult” from the public internet.
Yesterday the owners of blogs behind an “adult content warning” page were emailed with a notice that if they didn’t remove all “sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video” from every post in their archive, their blog would be removed from public view and set to “invitation only”, meaning it would become private content only visible to logged-in Google users who have been invited to view it. Users have until March 23rd to comply (which for blogs that have been running for years amounts to an incredibly laborious job), or their whole blog will be hidden and removed from search.
A long, tedious task awaits those bloggers who want to keep their links live – and that’s only for blogs that are still active. There are a vast number of adult blogs out there that haven’t been updated for years, but that doesn’t mean the content doesn’t have value. Posts indexed by Google long ago will suddenly disappear from search. Links that have been up for ages will break overnight. Violet Blue writes,
Blogger blogs with adult content which — at this time — are findable in search will be deep-sixed from the Internet once the changes take effect.
There is a wide range of users on Blogger’s fresh killing floor, most of whom routinely face sexual censorship. It’s essential to understand that a good amount of those blogs have had the “adult” label applied to them by Blogger itself, deserved or not.
Currently, Blogger blogs marked as “adult” include LGBT and “outsider sexuality” diaries, erotic writers, transgender activists, romance book editors and reviewers, sex toy reviewers, art nude photographers, film-makers, artists such as painters and comic illustrators, text-only fiction writers, sex news and porn gossip writers, LGBT sex activism, sex education and information outlets, fetish fashion, feminist porn blogs, and much, much more.
In a way, I’m not surprised. I remember when the Adult Content Warnings became mandatory for blogs deemed ‘adult’ by Google, rather than being opt-in at the discretion of the blogger. The extra click resulted in a steep drop-off in site visits which left blog owners grumbling. Then in June 2013, Blogger sent notice that blog owners had three days to remove all “adult advertising” from their sites, and didn’t offer any clarification or support for bloggers confused as to exactly whether this included their Amazon affiliate links or not.
Now, adult content is being taken offline altogether – at least as far as the public web, link directories and search engines are concerned. Adult blogs are being relegated to the “friends only” status of locked LiveJournal accounts; a fun way to spend the time as a teenager, but no use whatsoever if you want your writing to be publically available.
"Censoring [adult] content is contrary to a service that bases itself on freedom of expression" – Google's old content policy 1/2
— Ms Naughty (@msnaughty) February 24, 2015
Google’s censorship of adult content isn’t new, but this is the final death knell for Blogger. Since August 2013, Google has penalised adult sites in search results, marking them “low quality links” and making them less likely to appear in search even if you have content filtering turned off. (In 2014, another search algorithm change pushed adult sites even further down the search rankings). Since its inception Google Plus has had a no nudity or adult content rule in line with Facebook’s, although I’ve never had a problem with posting links to adult sites. YouTube is famously nudity-free and regularly purges accounts that host non-nude content deemed ‘adult’, setting the tone for other video hosting sites like Vimeo and Vine. Adult sites can’t make money by hosting Google Adwords, and adult advertisers aren’t allowed to buy advertising on Google. It’s only a matter of time before Google disappears adult content from its search results altogether. Violet Blue has an eye-opening history of Google’s role in global sex censorship which is worth a read.
For Girl on the Net, what bites is the cavalier way Google exercises its power over us. First it increases its reach until it owns everything we use online, and then it stops you from using anything it doesn’t like.
Google’s business model relies on it owning your online identity: we all know this, right? Not just in part, but totally. Google’s dream is to have as much data about you as it is possible to have, and for every element of your life to be in some way touched by, hosted on, or enhanced by its tools.
Right now, my main concern is with a company that has combined a desire to touch upon the lives of every human with a belief that it can influence which life activities are appropriate. [...] The company which wants to own everything also wants to decide which bits of that everything you should not be allowed to see.
Blog owners are advised to use The Internet Archive to back-up their content, and Molly’s Daily Kiss has a step-by-step guide to exporting your Blogger archive and self-hosting your own blog. WordPress.com (their hosted service) does not allow adult content but if you self-host and use their open source blogging software from WordPress.org, their terms and conditions don’t apply.
Given the power they have carefully cultivated, Google’s actions are particularly galling, but we’re seeing increased efforts everywhere to remove access to ‘adult’ content online. Facebook is renowned for its sexist no-nipples policy which bans breastfeeding images as well as porn. Vimeo routinely deletes accounts they deem non-compliant with their restriction on “explicit content” without warning or explanation. Twitter owns Vine, which explicitly disallows any adult content. At the weekend I was chatting to Hywel Phillips about porn censorship in the UK, and he said that he thinks Twitter will join the ranks of the porn censors by the end of the year – we shouldn’t get too invested in our adult Twitter accounts, because as soon as Twitter goes nudity-free they’ll probably be deleted too. Tumblr tried to remove adult content from its search algorithms a few years ago, and then relented and made their “safe mode” filter opt-out, although it’s still on by default. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before any remaining havens of free expression are censored along with the rest.
After all, if tax-paying, self-hosting adult businesses that protect their content behind paywalls are being censored by governments in the name of “protecting children”, what about freely available adult content shared on social media? Last year, ATVOD demanded that UK porn websites be forced to check all users are over 18 in an attempt to stop children accessing adult material – meaning that rather than clicking an “I am over 18″ statement, site visitors would be required to surrender credit card or PayPal details to a porn website before they could even begin to look it. This sort of stringent requirements on commercial sites is massively inconsistent with the freedom of adult-friendly social media – and it can’t be long before the censors notice, and start trying to ban those too.