Wait, is it okay that I call you that? I mean, it feels weird addressing you as Mr. Zuckerberg when you were only 10 when I was a freshman at UCONN and really the only difference between you and I is roughly 54.9 billion dollars. We are both “bergs”, you being the son of Edward Zuckerberg, I the daughter of Candice Trachtenberg. You learned Atari BASIC Programming from your Dad in the late 1990s, I played Atari BASIC MATH with my Dad in the early 1990s. You launched Facebook from your Harvard dormitory room in 2004, I launched the remnants of 8 tequila shots onto the floor of my Florida Atlantic University dormitory room in 1996. We both are successful business owners, rely on social media to maintain our businesses and have to deal with negative feedback from the public from time to time. While I have pledged to donate free photography sessions to all families fighting terminal illness you have pledged to fund and help find a cure for all terminal illness. You are 5’7″, I am 5’7″. You have been criticized for not being the hippest of dressers, I have been criticized for not being the hippest of dressers. I mean the similarities are truly uncanny.
Now that you realize we really are more alike than different, I am hoping that you do in fact take this note into serious consideration. Exactly 24 hours ago I received this message after trying to log into a Facebook group for photography students that I am currently teaching. I was incredibly confused, was the fact that I was requesting specific types of families against some sort of Facebook agreement of terms? It wasn’t until the SECOND message appeared on my screen that it made sense.
Included in my original post was a link to my website. You see, I am a commercial family photojournalist. I spend anywhere between 24-72 hours with families simply documenting their life just as it is. Included in my portfolio is a picture of a 3 year old boy peeing in his house. Like, just standing in the middle of the sunroom with all of his toys scattered around the floor, drawers dropped, peeing the absolute highest arch of pee he can make because. . . well, he’s a 3 year old boy and his folks were tending to his 2 other siblings inside. Oh, all the while his twin 10 month old brothers are just hanging out in their vibrating chairs in the back. Why would I include this in my portfolio? Because it’s fucking funny. And it’s real life. And, LBH (that’s what the kid’s are using these days for “Let’s be honest” because, well, full words simply take too much time to say) this is photography GOLD, this will probably never ever happen again in my career. I mean, there will be children peeing in places they shouldn’t, but never this exact scene again.
I actually tried to scroll through the photo options that were available to show up with the link to my website before posting, but this was the only one that would appear. I figured because it was a link to a family photography website that it didn’t break the rules, and I was not actually posting the image, but apparently that didn’t matter.
Now Mark, the reason for my letter is not to fight the rules you have established for your business. I respect those rules and do in fact understand why they are in place. However, what I take issue with is the message I received addressing why my post had been removed and why I had to be banned from using your service for 24 hours. The message was suggesting that my post was sexual in nature. It might not seem like a big deal at first, but let me explain. . . . .
I had the opportunity to speak for Nikon a couple of years ago at WPPI, a large photography convention hosted every year in Las Vegas. Before presenting, the company goes through your slides to make sure, like with Facebook, that there is nothing that conflicts with their company’s rules. I remember my rep saying, “You sure do have a lot of naked kid butts in here.” My response was simple, “Have you ever spent longer than an hour with kids?” Kids like to be naked. They like to feel free. They like running around the house, in the sprinkler, through their front and back yards, sans clothing. It’s what they do. I truly believe that if kids could strip down before climbing the stairs leading to the big, yellow school bus, they would. It’s what I did, it’s what you did, it’s what we all have done as small humans. See? Something else we have in common. There is absolutely NOTHING sexual about the picture that was flagged nor any other image I have in my portfolio and to suggest otherwise is not only incredibly insulting it can also be damaging.
See for me, with the sensitive nature of my business, I do in fact take extra precautions regarding any images that could even remotely be construed as inappropriate. And if I feel like they could be seen as such, I won’t even let them see the light of day. Meaning, if there is a particular gesture or positioning of subjects or composition that could be read as anything other than innocent I will immediately delete it, I won’t even deliver it to my client. End of story. Period. I have a degree in child psychology, a minor in Education. I have been a babysitter, a nanny, a daycare worker, an elementary school teacher and now a family photographer. I am extremely protective of every child that I have ever come in contact with whether they be my students, my client’s children or now my very own daughter. Why? Because I myself have experienced inappropriate sexual contact in the last 39 years of being a girl, a woman. But I also recognize the difference between the photographs I make of innocent children being innocent children v.s. the absolute most horrible thing I can imagine, children being used as sexual objects for the satisfaction of others.
Why does it matter what warning pops up when you flag and delete an image of mine? Because it suggests that I am violating the very essence of childhood, that my photographs are the epitome of what disgusts me most, which has damaged me personally. But beyond me, my biggest concern is what happens when this message appears to a parent who posts a picture of their own child being free, being innocent. You are in some way suggesting to them that the pictures of their own child, pictures that they love and adore, are wrong. They they are sexual and dirty. I want you to think for a moment what kind of message psychologically that can send to a parent whose entire life revolves around protecting the people they love most.
I have to guess that there are actual human beings, or at least I hope so, reviewing these flagged posts and pictures. So here is my request, my plea. Could you PLEASE consider a different message popping up when you do feel an image such as mine violates your nudity clause but in fact is truly just a picture of innocent children being children? And perhaps NOT block them for an entire day?
It’d be even more awesome if we all could receive a personal message from one of your flaggers in the DELETE AND BLOCK department.
Now, there is one other issue that must be addressed regarding this issue of nudity, sex, and FB Posts. I must ask that if we family photographers, mom, dads, etc, if we must all comply to your rules as stated in my original notification, that everyone else must as well. Correct? That means the poor workers in your DELETE and BLOCK department have some catching up to do.
“We remove content that threatens or promotes sexual violence or exploitation.”
Now I know I am not the SMARTEST person in the whole world – ask my husband about the time we were in the Istanbul spice market and the spice shop owner wanted me to try some of the spices so he put them in my hand and I flung them over my right shoulder thinking it was good luck like salt – but I have to believe that these FB pages are the definition of sexual exploitation, no?
*PLEASE NOTE* Although these are all public pages, I still blacked out everyone’s faces to protect their identity.
These are just 3 of hundreds of pages filled with thousands of pictures just like this. I want to note, I don’t actually take issue with the existence of these pages (they are grown women choosing to put these photos out there) however they clearly go against the policy I was forwarded.
“This includes the solicitation of sexual materials, any sexual content involving minors, threats to share intimate images and offers of sexual services.
Where appropriate, we refer this content to law enforcement.”
Facebook is seemingly inundated with sex workers soliciting their services from all over the world. I am not someone sitting here judging how these individuals are earning their income but I am someone expecting that there be some exposure and accountability regarding this double standard that I am experiencing in regards to having my content removed while there are individuals, pages, groups and photographs existing on your social media website CLEARLY not in compliance with the rules you have set forth.
The most disturbing to me are the countless pages and groups dedicated to exploiting teen girls. This actually breaks my heart, as a new mother to a daughter I can’t even imagine if she was one of these teenagers. Of all the content being held accountable, I feel as though these kinds of pages and profiles need the attention of Facebook immediately. Clearly these violate the rules the Facebook user agreement and Community Standards, “any sexual content involving minors”. These are the types of images, pages and groups that perpetrate sexual indiscretions, acts and violence against female minors. It encourages illegal activity to exchange through an online means and could possibly lead to direct contact. While pages that might include younger children are clearly monitored more carefully, these young women are still minors, basically still children.
I personally feel very strongly about not giving power to predators and I refuse to live in constant fear. Not a single one of my photographs are “suggestive” in nature. They are not meant to, nor do they, imply anything other than real life of the every day family. While others are more cautious, which is TOTALLY understandable, I refuse to allow my pictures to be labeled as anything that might suggest they be inappropriate. And as a result I work with families all over the world who share these ideals. My pictures celebrate real life moments, the good, the bad, the chaotic, the funny, the frustrating, and beautiful. I allow my families to see how they love and how much they themselves are loved. The preserve a time in a family’s life that can never be replaced and reenacted, the time is so fleeting.
Quietly judging another parent’s, another artist’s, decision regarding photography is one thing. Attempting to censor their pictures, to verbally attack them or their character is not only closed minded and selfish, it can be harmful and permanent. Sally Mann received countless negative attacks on her work Immediate Family debuting in 1990, where critics accused her of being a terrible mother, woman, human being. Ironically in 2001 Time Magazine named her America’s Best Photographer. In 2014, Wyatt Neumann took his 2-year-old daughter Stella on a road trip and photographed their experience which eventually developed into a series that he shared online. The remarks and assumptions made about Neumann were unimaginable descriptions used to label a father, from perverse to sick to pedofile. Some suggested he be taken away from his daughter. Some suggested he be killed. He ended up showing his photographs in an exhibition entitled, ““I FEEL SORRY FOR YOUR CHILDREN –- The Sexualization of Innocence in America,” where he accompanied the negative personal attacks to the photographs themselves. Neumann unfortunately passed away from a motorcycle accident in 2015 leaving behind his family, including Stella whom will only remember him as the most awesome photographer dad who took her on a road trip. Unfortunately, the Internet ridicule will the preserved indefinitely and when she’s old enough she might read what was said of her father. Alain Laboile, one of my personal favorite photographers, has spent the last few years documenting his amazing family and their free spirited childhood in the middle of France. His photographs are whimsical, fresh, funny and mischievous and are revered by admirers world-wide, however he himself is no stranger to the irrational outcry of the Internet. Most recently, I am reminded of photographer Heather Whitten and an absolutely beautiful frame of her husband comforting their ill son in the shower. The public lashing was bad that it affected her family and personal life directly. It is important to remember that your actions and words based on the judgmental assumption of a single photograph can have a serious ripple effect.
So in closing Mark, I really do hope that you reconsider the standard message that is delivered and the consequences set in place for photos of this nature. Breast feeding is beautiful and I am so glad that you changed your stance regarding those pictures. Birth and childhood are equally as such and perhaps this letter will help you understand where literally hundreds of thousands of photographers are coming from when you label their work as “sexual.”
For the record, I NEVER post any image without consent from my clients. If they are uncomfortable with an image being online, I respect their boundaries and post accordingly. The mom of the little boy peeing in the house loves that photo and supports me for including it in my portfolio. It isn’t for anyone else to determine its place in my portfolio. And I promise you, one day that little boy is going to be a man and he’s going to fall in love with someone and they are more than likely going to say I do. And more than likely, there is going to be a slideshow at the reception. It’ll probably be on a floating hologram project by a pair of reading glasses, but hey, there will be a slideshow. And I guarantee you, included in that slideshow will be a picture of a 3 year old boy peeing in his house. Like, just standing in the middle of the sunroom with all of his toys scattered around the floor, drawers dropped, peeing the absolute highest arch of pee he can make because. . . well, he’s a 3 year old boy and his folks were tending to his 2 other siblings inside. Oh, all the while his twin 10 month old brothers are just hanging out in their vibrating chairs in the back. Because it’s fucking funny. And amazing. And sums up childhood so perfectly in one frame.
Kind regards from you twin sister separated at birth by 8 years,