In November of 2014, Kim Kardashian posted two photographs to Instagram sourced from her cover shoot for the winter 2014 issue of Paper magazine. One photo displays Kardashian peering over her shoulder as she slips her sparkly black evening gown beneath her entirely nude, albeit heavily oiled, posterior. The caption reads: “#BreakTheInternet.” The Kardashian photograph quickly stirred conversation, inspiring many social media users to post their own images. For example, comedian Chelsea Handler took to Instagram with a selfie, mimicking Kardashian’s pose in a bathroom mirror. The Metropolitan Museum of Art chimed in on Twitter, comparing the Kardashian cover to a picture of a prehistoric Cycladic statue from the Museum’s collection.
To aid in enforcement, social media sites put their own users to work. Users on Instagram can report what they deem to be inappropriate content by selecting from a list of criteria that, among other things, includes: “this photo puts people at risk” and “this photo shouldn’t be on Instagram”. If the unhappy user indicates that he merely does not like the photo, the app suggests that he block the user posting the disagreeable content. By collecting reports directly from their users, social media services can arguably get a better sense of what their users find offensive versus entertaining. The availability of user-generated reports may also reduce the need for moderators to scour their ever-growing networks for impermissible content. In turn, this reduces enforcement costs.
Katherine C. Nemeth is a J.D. candidate, 2017, at NYU School of Law