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<nettime> Extent & mechanisms of censorship
James Wallbank on Mon, 28 Sep 2015 21:18:40 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Extent & mechanisms of censorship


Hello Nettimers,

There is (or at least there was, until recently) a particular photograph on the internet. Black and white, cropped to an approximately square format. It appears to have been taken with a flash, or supplementary lighting, in a dark interior. The upper right quarter of the image shows an area of dark background and a circular table with a white tablecloth.

A central figure, in the foreground, faces left. His face, visible in profile, is that of a young man, his expression unreadable. His right hand is raised. He appears to be seated, and is wearing some kind of military or psuedo-military dress uniform, perhaps like the ringmaster of a circus.

The upper left quarter of the picture contains the most detail. In the upper centre left is a young man in a dark dress suit, who appears to be playing a supporting role. Two hands, from a figure standing behind him, reach over his shoulders, perhaps to tie or untie his bow tie, or to restrain him. The upper body of the owner of the hands is invisible, as the upper edge of the picture crops it off.

The upper left and centre left of the picture shows a young man, naked except for a bow tie. His face is clearly visible, and his expression is apprehensive. From the angle that the photograph was taken, his genitals are concealed by an object on the lap of the seated figure in the foreground.

The perspective of the photograph is quite unusual. The (presumably horizontal) back of the chair of the figure in the foreground, and the angle of the circular tabletop in the background (again, likely to be horizontal) suggest that the picture was taken from a height of approximately 1.5m. The eclipsing of the naked figure's genitals by the thing on the lap of the seated ringmaster suggests something else: that the naked figure and his dark suited companion are both kneeling, and that the incident depicted is some kind of ritual.

The naked figure is entirely recognisable as a major British public figure. The object in the foreground is the head of a pig.

What exercises me about this image is not the incident depicted, nor whether or not it is a fake.

What concerns me is the sequence of events immediately following the publication of a book that revealed the incident that this photograph appears to document.

As you may be aware, that book's publication precipitated amusement, scandal and argumentation online, the volume of which is hard to overstate. The sheer scale of the sudden outpouring of emotion in the UK was a newsworthy item in itself, and has been notably under-reported by British media.

A hashtag associated with the incident trended as number one in the UK for 24 hours or so, but disappeared from top trend tracks surprisingly quickly.

Searches using a popular search engine revealed this picture on the first page of search results in the day following the breaking of the scandal, but it quickly became invisible. Searches using other search engines over the following period have revealed the image less and less prominently. I have noted a US website which appears to have removed content quickly and untidily (404 not found) while cached search results showed that the image had been published.

Tweets including the image, that were visible in the immediate period following, the scandal, have been deleted. Facebook postings that include this image have been removed.

There appears to have been a massive, alarmingly successful attempt to prevent the transmission and dissemination of this image. I should note that the suppression of the image is some of the best evidence that it may indeed be genuine.

The mechanisms by which this image has been erased from the internet are of intense interest. They are likely to leave traces vulnerable to forensic investigation. That the effort to suppress this image has thus far itself remained invisible, suggests that deep, structural vulnerabilities in digital networks have been exploited. This is possibly the most chilling aspect of the event.

I welcome:

* Vigorous dissemination of the image in question.
* Merciless ridicule of its principal subject.
* Investigation into the mechanisms by which this image has been suppressed.
* Information about the extent of such suppression: is it limited to the UK?
* The publication of discoveries regarding what must surely be an extensive and coordinated campaign of internet censorship.

Best Regards,

James
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