Disorderly Content

68 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2021 Last revised: 5 Aug 2022

See all articles by Ari Ezra Waldman

Ari Ezra Waldman

Northeastern University School of Law and Khoury College of Computer Sciences, Center for Law, Information and Creativity (CLIC)

Date Written: August 16, 2021


Content moderation plays an increasingly important role in the creation and dissemination of expression, thought, and knowledge. And yet, throughout the social media ecosystem, nonnormative and LGBTQ+ sexual expression is disproportionately taken down, restricted, and banned. The current sociolegal literature, which focuses on content moderation as a whole and traces the evolution of its values and mechanics, insufficiently captures the ways in which those principles and practices are not only discriminatory, but also resemble structures of power that have long been used to police queer sexual behavior in public spaces.

This Article contributes to the sociolegal literature by approaching content moderation from an explicitly queer perspective, bridging siloed scholarship on law, technology, and LGBTQ history. It argues that in creating rules to moderate “sexual activity”, platforms are recreating for the digital age structures of control that have long been used to police public expression of queer sexuality. In short, sexual content moderation is an assemblage of social forces that resembles oppressive anti-vice campaigns from the middle of the last century in which “disorderly conduct”, “vagrancy”, “lewdness”, and other vague morality statutes were disproportionately enforced against queer behavior in public. This analogy highlights underappreciated pieces of the content moderation puzzle. Compared to anti-vice campaigns, content moderation emerged from similar sociolegal contexts, relies on similar justificatory discourses, leverages similarly vague rules, similarly operates mostly without expertise in sexual content, also disproportionately silences queer content, and similarly does so without due process. Ultimately, I argue that like anti-vice enforcement, the consequence of sexual content moderation is the maintenance and reification of social media as straight spaces that are hostile to queer, nonnormative expression.

This Article provides a full, critical account of sexual content moderation and its effects on queer expression. It details and challenges the current content moderation literature and explores potential new directions for scholarship, moderation, and law. The similarities and differences between anti-vice enforcement and sexual content moderation also suggests a way forward, offering a queer, social justice justification for modest legal reform, social activism, and platform responsibility.

Suggested Citation

Waldman, Ari Ezra, Disorderly Content (August 16, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3906001 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3906001

Ari Ezra Waldman (Contact Author)

Northeastern University School of Law and Khoury College of Computer Sciences, Center for Law, Information and Creativity (CLIC)

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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