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Vienna museums' social media posts got rejected for nudity, so they're on OnlyFans

Left: OnlyFans is hosting some of Vienna's nude artwork. Right: A painting is seen on the stairway of the famous Albertina art museum.
Left: OnlyFans is hosting some of Vienna's nude artwork. Right: A painting is seen on the stairway of the famous Albertina art museum.

OnlyFans hosts over two million creators, some of whom share nude and pornographic content. Now, the Vienna Tourist Board is one of them.

It's posting some of the city's historical 18+ artwork on the subscription service, including pieces by Egon Schiele and Amedeo Modigliani that depict nude or partially nude people.

The board and some of Vienna's museums had previously posted images of the artwork on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok for promotional purposes, but the images were removed and in some cases, the accounts were closed, according to Helena Hartlauer, a spokesperson for the Vienna Tourist Board. That's when it made sense to move to the less restrictive OnlyFans.

"We question this kind of censorship, because we believe it's not a good idea to let an algorithm determine our cultural legacy," Hartlauer told NPR.

"It might lead to some unconscious self-censorship, when artists start to make art differently or collectors assemble their collections in a different way because they know a tool as strong as social media would not show or promote certain types of art," she added. "This is quite frightening."

Art has pushed the boundaries of social media rules

This isn't the first time social media platforms have found themselves accused of censoring fine art.

In 2011 Facebook deactivated the account of teacher Frédéric Durand-Baïssas after he posted an image of the painting L'Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World) by Gustave Courbet, which is a close-up of a woman's genitals and abdomen as she lies on a bed. Durand-Baïssas sued Facebook, claiming that the company violated his freedom of speech when it deactivated his account, but the social media giant denied his accusation.

Instagram removed images of an exhibit posted by Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in 2017 for violating its community standards.

Hartlauer says the same thing is happening to the tourism board and museums in Vienna. The Leopold Museum was unable to use a video marking its 20th anniversary because of a painting showcasing a partially nude couple, she said, and the Albertina Museum had to create a whole new TikTok account after it promoted an exhibition by a Japanese photographer that included images of partially nude women.

Per their community guidelines, Facebook and Instagram, which Facebook owns, say they allow images of paintings and sculptures that depict nude figures. TikTok bans nudity but says it may permit exceptions for "artistic content."

Social media platforms use human content moderators as well as algorithms to identify content that violates its rules.

Still, even OnlyFans has waffled on whether to allow adult content on its platform. In August the company banned sexually explicit content only to reverse its decision days later after backlash from creators and subscribers.

It's generating publicity and it's a conversation starter

Users who subscribe to Vienna's OnlyFans channel by Oct. 31 will be eligible for a free Vienna City Card or an admission ticket to one of the featured museums, including the Leopold Museum, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna and Albertina.

Hartlauer acknowledges that the OnlyFans account is a way to generate interest in the city. "To be honest, of course you can promote a museum or a city like Vienna without necessarily posting exactly these images," she said.

But it isn't just that.

It's also an attempt to spark a conversation about the power social media companies wield to permit or reject all different types of content — and what that means for the rest of us.

"We were aware that this was not going to be a huge community," Hartlauer said of the OnlyFans page, which has about 300 subscribers so far.

"But what we've experienced during the last days is this huge international and global interest in the topic, and this is actually more important to us."

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

Tien Le is an intern on NPR's News Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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