Instagram recently censored an image of artist Dread Scott’s new public artwork, citing violation of their Community Standard on hate speech. Scott’s text-based work reads “White people can’t be trusted with power,” and was commissioned and displayed by Playwrights Horizons, a theater company in New York City. Scott appealed Instagram’s decision using their online process. Instagram upheld the post’s removal. Instagram later restored the original post without comment, but the post could not be liked and it remains unclear if it was appearing in other users’ feeds.

Instagram and Facebook (as well as the Facebook Oversight Board) consistently emphasize the importance of evaluating a work’s context when considering its permissibility on their platforms. In addition to Scott’s work being public art in New York City, Scott’s Instagram and broader online presence make clear that he is a reputable artist who often creates work with themes of race, racism and racial justice. Despite all that context, Scott’s post was still censored. And, importantly, when he appealed, Instagram upheld their removal decision.

Following the removal, Scott made an Instagram post that read: “White people’s algorithms can’t be trusted with power.” It was also removed for hate speech.

Although Scott’s post of his artwork was eventually reinstated, this case is one of many which demonstrate the power that social media platforms wield, often inconsistently, in determining what content can freely circulate online. Scott’s installation is on display in New York City. For anyone unable to walk down West 42nd Street, blocking access to Scott’s post means they may never get to see the work. This is yet another demonstration of the power of social media platforms to control access to art. In tandem with our Don’t Delete Art campaign, NCAC continues to urge social media platforms to adopt a set of principles guiding the regulation of art online and allowing art to circulate freely in the online environment.

Header image: Dread Scott’s White People Can’t Be Trusted with Power, photo by Marc J. Franklin via Playwrights Horizons