Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

Google's fun new social network Google Plus is growing fast and its Achilles' Heel is NSFW content. Will Google+ be safe for adults?
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

Google’s fun new social network is clearly growing faster than expected and has problematic blind spots – and its Achilles’ Heel is NSFW content.

One thing’s for sure – the content restrictions on Google+ certainly make the social network safe for children.

But who is going to make it safe for adults?

I’m on Google+ with content that might be racier than most, sure – and I love Google+. A lot. But I know my way around Big Social and its failings with NSFW (Not Safe for Work) policies. And I can tell you that this situation isn’t going to end well.

Nothing tests the mettle of a social network like spammers, brands, hackers, trolls – and poor policies around content that is not safe for work.

No, I’m not talking about porn (for once). I’m talking about the huge amount of everything that falls between porn and G-rated (general, all ages) content.

Google+ has done something that I think is going to become a huge problem: they do not allow content they deem as not work-safe, yet have not put content controls in the hands of Plussers.

Without giving Google+ accounts the ability to self-rate photos, albums or posts, or the ability to opt-in or opt-out to safety levels, Google is laying the foundation for one community management crisis after another.

The big failing of all Big Social endeavors is not treating edgy content like any other kind of content - content that some people want to see and share, and some simply do not.

Think of it like this: you may not want to see content shared from McDonald’s, or be “friends” with McDonald’s – but there are a hell of a lot of people out there that think it would be great to “follow” Ronald and share the corporation’s media.

The default photo and image albums for Google+ users are Picassa, which has zero tolerance for nudity or borderline content, and does not offer users content rating controls (such as the ability to mark things as “moderate” or “restricted”) to remain within the Picassa/G+ content guidelines.

Picassa’s rival Flickr does this, so it’s not just a whimsical idea.

They've provided no community moderation tools for users, so people are trying to make their own. I have already seen artists trying to creatively set content advisory warnings for their work, such as this gallery by painter Ben Northern.

Concerned about having high hopes for Google+ dashed I wrote not one, but several posts on Google+ and its NSFW policies. The reaction was overwhelming, with every commenter expressing deep disappointment.

Scott Turner commented to me,

It is early beta days for Google+ the reason Google invited us all here now is to help them figure out the holes. Congratulations: you found a huge one. Google has to face up to the fact the internet is full of socializing sexual humans.

Dark Pen opined,

Dear Google Plus,

I'm tired of having my rights as an adult ignored. Sex exists. Naked people exist. Please grow up. It IS your service, of course. But honestly, if you only wanted to market it to religious people and children, you should have told us that when you rolled it out.

Think you don’t neet to worry? Then you haven’t read the rules.

What’s worse is that Google+ has taken punitive action against users for posting content outside their narrow – arguably unrealistic – guidelines.

San Francisco librarian Library Vixen commented,

About a year ago my Picasa account was suspended (as was my blogspot shutdown), so now on G+ I am unable to link my instagram photos and am unable to view anyone’s linked "Picasa" photos because of the suspension and direct connection to Picasa.

Lynda Giddens said,

I linked to an article that contained topless nudity and the very first response was, "Reported!"

Incredibly stupid, especially since I plastered NSFW all over it and the thumb image wasn’t indecent.

Users are also reporting in post comments that links are silently being removed form their posts, in addition to having entire posts unexpectedly and quietly removed.

Sadly, Google+ Is Not for Everyone

This setup isn’t just problematic for regular adults, photographers, filmmakers, writers and artists, it automatically excludes those adults that do want to be adults. And that means adult artists and entrepreneurs as well.

When I first posted about Google+’s policy about NSFW content and pointed out that it had already been changed within a week to remove artistic expression – becoming even more restrictive – people in the adult business reacted.

Multi-site owner, producer, and performer Camille Crimson wrote a post saying:

It seems that they’ve made their new social network out to be completely NSFW-free, even going as far as to take a clause for art out of their terms of service. Basically, if you post a beautiful nude painting, you’ll be in trouble.

(…) It’s not that I don’t love just talking to you guys, but this site is a big part of my life and I like to share it. Until they revise their sex negative policies, I think I’m going to have to pass…

Google+ doesn't have to be yet another place that is not welcome to a certain group of people. They have the technology.

One Content Rule for All Communities Will Never Work

Blanket policy works well on Twitter - but their policy is also sensible. Yet even Facebook's ultra-restrictive policy wouldn't fly in say, Libya, where I had an entire domain seized by the government because I had a photo on the site that didn't have my arms covered (something considered literally criminally obscene for a girl to do in that country).

UK Google+ user Morgaine Dinova commented,

The concept of "NSFW" isn't really helpful outside a single society, and doesn't really make sense in a worldwide, multi-national and multi-cultural setting. What G+ needs is topic classification, not imposing one nation's set of value judgements on everything using some arbitrary scale.

It’s sad that I think Google+ should at least take a page from Flickr’s user controls (they’re not known for consistency), or better yet, Blip.tv‘s excellent user-administered content rating system.

In my opinion, they need to address this ASAP or they will have a disaster on their hands.

Having your Facebook account yanked for alleged ToS violation with no way to fight it or find out what you did wrong is one thing. Losing your Google account over oblique ToS enforcement is another entirely.

I don’t need to recount or link to the many innocent ToS violation stories (not even my own) that have come out of Flickr, Facebook and many others over the past several years.

I mean this seriously: how many times do we have to do this?

I'm so tired of the NSFW issue not being addressed with available technologies that it was the topic of a Gnomedex presentation on social sites, online communities and human sexuality - one that received a standing ovation.

The Google+ acceptable use policy lands somewhere between Facebook and Twitter: not as strict and impractical as Facebook, but not as open as Twitter. Because of this, wider use of Google+ will always and forever be limited until they add the ability for users to create content ratings – sorry Dorothy, but there is nudity in the world.

On the flipside, I applaud the inclusion of sexual orientation/gender identity tolerance in the G+ Terms regarding hate speech and specifying bullying. In this, they are light years ahead in creating a safe harbor against an extremely harmful avenue of bullying.

Highlights of what’s not allowed on Google+:

3. Hate Speech

Do not distribute content that promotes hatred or violence towards groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.

10. Sexually Explicit Material

Do not distribute content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. Do not drive traffic to commercial pornography sites. Your Profile Picture cannot include mature or offensive content. For example, do not use a photo that is a close-up of a person’s buttocks or cleavage.

The sexually explicit rule used to include a line about nudity with artistic merit being acceptable. They removed that, which is very disappointing.

No nudity – yet no user controls in case we post a news item or article about art, and need to err on the side of caution?

I'm giving Google+ user Martin Bogomolni the last word on the matter:

I would //MUCH// rather have a "this post has mature content" than Google's nanny attitude about no nudity. Most of us on here are adults, and parents should guide and talk with kids about what's online. Google, don't push your ethics on me...

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