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The Moderation Arcana

To allow participants to empathise with censored users and to provide them and report readers with contextual information grounded in research, I decided to illustrate de-platformed and flagged users’ stories and experiences via tarot cards.

Tarot cards have previously been used to problematise and challenge technology and its impact. Projects like the Artefact Group’s The Tarot Cards Of Tech and Sasha Costanza-Chock’s Oracle for Transfeminist Technologies set out to help product designers consider the impact of technology and to help researchers and users envision future where technologies are designed by those who are often excluded from or targeted by technology in today's world.

My cards are archetypes, stories and narratives to instil empathy into content moderation and inform a more user-centred governance process, revolving around specific stories arising from real experiences and peer-reviewed research.

This approach is informed by my previous interactions with social media platforms, where I learnt that the time, resources and attention allocated to engagement with the stakeholders who are directly affected by technology is awarded sparingly. This way, I hope to create a free resource for both users to feel seen in a governance process that often erases them and, crucially, for platform workers to avoid escaping stakeholder engagement.

The tarots’ design was influenced by the stories of those directly targeted and erased from platforms, and is a decidedly queer, body- and sex-positive rendition of the Major Arcana. The Major Arcana is a significant part of tarots’ imagery, representing universal archetypes that can signal major life events or important messages that the reader should take note of. Because participants’ stories are an important message for Big Tech, the Major Arcana was chosen instead of the Minor Arcana, which has four different suits (Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles), which usually represent aspects our daily life.

The tarot designs were informed by a set of resources grounded in research, including:

1. My own personal experiences of malicious reporting and de-platforming gathered through autoethnographies;

2. A qualitative survey amongst 123 participants;

3. 12 interviews with censored content creators.

Tarot Deck: About

The Deck

Tarot Deck: Text

Rob - trans masc sex educator

Rob is a 20-something Asian trans masc sex educator. He loves decorating the flat he shares with his partner, Lara, and with their two mini sausage dogs. Together, they post sex and pleasure education content, discussing anything from STIs to contraception, all the way to how both cisgender and transgender people can have pleasurable, safe and healthy sex.

Rob’s main platforms are Twitter, where he shares information threads, and Instagram, where he shares informative videos, graphics and personal photos. He has the highest social media following in the couple, meaning most posts come from him. Although he really enjoys talking to his followers, Rob has lately found social media a scary place, after having received swathes of negative comments and accusations of paedophilia and abuse from ‘gender critical’ users on Twitter. This resulted in him losing his account for a while, but he was able to recover it thanks to a contact at the platform.

Although Rob does not post nudity, he is concerned about losing his main source of income – his social media profiles – on which he works full-time as a content creator with brand partnerships, and on which both he and Lara rely to pay their bills.

Tarot Deck: About

Club Workers United

Club Workers United is a union for strippers working in the United Kingdom. They post loud, colourful and educational slideshows on Instagram, as well as video snippets from their fundraiser events and protests.

Despite being known as an activist and labour rights organisation thanks to media coverage and many successful campaigns fighting local councils’ attempts to shut down strip club, their Instagram profile was deleted for sexual solicitation shortly after they asked their followers to sign a petition.

Ahead of this, some of their content raising awareness of the issues strippers face at work, featuring pictures of some members wearing bikinis, wigs and g-strings, was deleted. CWU are very aware of Instagram’s community guidelines and don’t understand what they did wrong. They would love to speak to a human to understand and recover her account, because losing it means their followers and members won’t have access to a crucial organising, education and information tool.

Tarot Deck: About

Sylvia - Journalist

Sylvia is a journalist working for a major international news organisation. She loves singing and wine-tasting, and also runs a book club through her social media. She posts on social media mainly to showcase her journalism, which covers anything from war reporting to reproductive health – all newsworthy, factual health information about everything from global conflicts to safe abortions.

Even though she is verified on Instagram and TikTok, Sylvia has had content removed for “sexual activity” although all of her mentions to sex are spoken, and has found that this content doesn’t perform as well as her other posts. She hates having to constantly figure out linguistic workarounds to avoid getting content pulled, because she finds this dilutes messages of openness and awareness about sexual issues.

When reporting from warzones, Sylvia has also had repeated content take-downs, which were only overturned when she complained about them on other platforms, because different factions (e.g. Russians vs Ukrainians) would leave negative comments on her posts. She can’t know for sure, but thinks their reports led to content take-downs. She thinks this form of take-down is a threat to a free press.

Tarot Deck: About

Playwear Lingerie and Bridal - Lingerie Brand

Playwear Lingerie and Bridal is an established lingerie and bridalwear brand with a predominantly queer and sex-positive audience. They have made a point of featuring (and making clothes for) all shapes, sizes and bodies, and have a very diverse feed depicting models of different sizes, ethnicities, gender identities and abilities. Yet, they routinely experience censorship of content on social media, and even lost access to their account. On TikTok, Playwear’s account was deleted for “nudity and sexual activity,” even though they made a point of promoting their lingerie and swimwear with either flat lays on tables or mannequins instead of people to avoid censorship. On Instagram, one of Playwear’s pictures, showing a queer wedding photo with one of their wedding dresses – was hidden with the ‘sensitive content’ screen for showing a plus size, fully clothed person. Their business’ profile was even de-platformed when Instagram introduced the requirement to add your age to your account: by mistakenly adding the age of their business – eight years old – they triggered deletion as they were below the required age of 13. Playwear found this experience really traumatic, as they were served a 30-day notice to provide ID to prove the business’ age, or their profile would be forever disabled.

Tarot Deck: About

Spicy - pleasure brand

Spicy is a colourful, gender-neutral pleasure brand selling sex toys. They post pictures and videos on Instagram and TikTok featuring their products, often using diverse models, including plus size, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ individuals also showing body hair – which they even dye of different colours, because YOLO.

However, advertising has been difficult: they’ve had ads rejected or outright removed from Instagram, and they’ve given up on posting on TikTok after having had two accounts removed and most content taken down. Appeals did not work for them, and they couldn’t reach anyone at platforms. Ahead of being deleted from TikTok, the brand has had swathes of negative comments from users who believed their content and models to be inappropriate and ‘disgusting’.

Yet, when they tried reporting the abusive comments, platforms found they did not violate community guidelines. Even more frustratingly, bigger, verified brands selling the same products as Spicy, profiting from marginalised communities’ aesthetics thanks to a more established platform and white, straight-sized cisgender models, are not equally censored.

Tarot Deck: About

Death - De-Platforming

"Your account has been removed for violation of our community guidelines." The loss of an account via de-platforming has been described and conceptualised as a tangible loss not just of work but also of an identity, resulting in feelings of stress, sadness and depression and triggering a grieving process.

Digital content creators, especially those who work through a carefully crafted identity and through their body, face an even deeper loss upon de-platforming: a personal rejection of who they are, a feeling of not being worthy of a platform they need for work, but which deems them unacceptable and dangerous. 

Participants described the loss as “crushing,” triggering feelings of “depression” and leading to what they felt was a “devastating” failure to work and exist in digital spaces: a form of digital death (see: Are & Briggs, 2023). 

Grieving caused by de-platforming blends the loss of personal and professional connections, work and opportunities, the efforts, trust, and digital labor placed on companies that do not value it and, even, on the memories made and forever lost with the flick of a switch.

Tarot Deck: About

Cassandra - Performer

Cassandra is a queer model, Burlesque and pole dance performer and instructor in her mid-twenties. She is a foodie and loves a brunch post, and knows any Lady Gaga lyric by heart. Cassandra gets her main performing and teaching gigs via Instagram and TikTok, where she posts performances and choreography snippets, often alongside other LGBTQIA+ performers. She knows you can’t really free the nipple on social media, so she’s very careful to cover her nipples and genitalia with pasties or costumes when she posts… but has had content removed for nudity, sexual activity and sexual solicitation from her platforms of choice regardless.

Cassandra usually posts content shot at entertainment venues and dance studios, but finds what she posts is often moderated like a sex act. As a sexual assault survivor, she finds this perennial sexualisation non-consensual. She is worried about losing her account because of the community guidelines violations she’s racking up, and of losing work as a result.

Tarot Deck: About

Andrea - non-binary activist

Andrea is a 20-something non-binary Italian activist studying at university in the UK. They religiously follow every season of Drag Race, and enjoy watching (and reading conspiracy theories about) Selling Sunset. Andrea is polyamorous and live with both their partners, who they prefer to keep private. They post on Instagram to document their non-binary journey, to express themselves and raise awareness about issues of class struggle and inequality. Andrea has a shaven head and eyebrows, and enjoys experimenting with gender through fashion and make-up.

They have had their main account deleted twice by Instagram, in circumstances they do not understand. They found that, when posing with covering, less figure-hugging clothes coded as ‘male,’ their content would stay up… but when posting with feminine clothes and make-up, their content would be deleted for community guidelines violations. After receiving repeated violations, their whole account was deleted and only recovered because they had a contact at Instagram. Shortly after, they found out through a mutual friend that a group of fascist sympathisers from their hometown had dropped links to their content into a Telegram chat, asking others to report their content. They wish they knew how to defend themselves from attacks like these on social media.

Tarot Deck: About

Natalie - Sex Worker

Natalie is a Black, 30-something sex worker who likes cats, David Lynch movies and is passionate about interior design. She sells content via online subscription platforms. She is neurodivergent and prefers this type of work, which offers her the flexibility support her family in accordance with her needs. However, she has experienced de-platforming from Instagram and TikTok, sometimes even when she posted ‘life’ content, fully clothed pictures with her kids or her friends - always for nudity, sexual activity or solicitation on Instagram. Natalie doesn’t openly advertise her adult content platforms, but keeps them on her LinkTree in her bio – still, she was deleted for solicitation even though she didn’t direct people to her account.

Before Natalie’s profile was deleted, a client had turned sour after finding out she had a family and began telling her he’d get her account removed. Shortly after a few negative comments by the client, her profile was indeed deleted – and although she tried appealing, she never heard back from Instagram. Her mental health has taken a bad turn since not being able to promote her OnlyFans through Instagram, on which she depended for her earnings (it was her biggest platform and OnlyFans doesn’t have in-built promo tools). She feels she can’t support herself and her family as a single mother anymore.

Tarot Deck: About
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