“My opinions on this boil down to ‘Yeah, I’d rather not see it’ or make it easily accessible,” says a Bluesky user who asked about the reasons for the ban and requested anonymity. because they had already been rebuffed by other Bluesky users for voicing their opinion. “Tons of people in my life have had sex and porn addiction issues, and being available behind a quick-change on-off switch doesn’t really help,” he says.
The anonymous user suggests that Bluesky could follow an approach taken by Reddit, which allows users to block access to all properly tagged “not safe for work” (NSFW) subreddits. “Bluesky has its current system of ‘disabling explicit content’, but you fall into the problem of explicit labeling,” he says. Additionally, he says the current system labels some content as nudity when it isn’t, while missing out on some.
For Sarah T. Roberts, director of faculty at the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, Bluesky’s challenges to the wave of nudes highlight a naivety around user behavior. “Once again a platform comes to market that is surprised when users try to play and break things, and when they post nudity,” she says.
This lack of preparation for what Roberts thought was inevitable could sabotage Bluesky’s future growth. “Content moderation decisions made after the fact, regardless of the level of permissiveness chosen, are costly from both a financial and a public relations standpoint,” she says. “Surely it wouldn’t have taken a genius to predict the turn of events. So why is this once again a surprise and not a fatality?
It is unclear whether the platform expected such user behavior. Bluesky CEO Jay Graber forwarded a request for an interview to Bluesky’s anonymous media team, who declined to provide anyone for an interview, but instead directed WIRED to their FAQ page. A member of the Bluesky team said the decision to implement a “no boobs (no dicks, no asses) policy on what’s (sic) hot” was “a hard line to toe”. By default, Bluesky users will have a “Show nudity” toggle enabled when they sign up, and “would prefer it to stay that way.” This means that if people proactively follow a user who decides to share nudity, they will see it. “But what’s (sic) hot is a bit different because you haven’t opted in,” they skeet.
Carolina Are calls the decision to remove nudes and obscene from the What’s Hot page a form of shade banning – the subject of her research, as well as something she has personal experience. “They have effectively already limited the chances of growth for anyone who shares nudity and sexuality,” she says. She worries that Bluesky is confusing penises, which are genitalia, with boobs and asses, which aren’t necessarily sexual. “This is where things get really tricky to govern,” she says.
Flea found the sharing of nudes and obscene amazing because it showed that people, including trans people, felt confident, safe and empowered on Bluesky. Yet she realizes why the approach had to change. “Not everyone wants to see obscene photos,” she says. “It’s not just about being lewd, I think it’s also about sharing your whole being with the world, and if that’s something people want, that option should be there.”
Are suggests that similarly, while users are asked if they want to encounter nudity from users they follow, Bluesky could ask if users want to encounter nudity on What’s Hot when they join. “It’s pretty interesting that they’re making this decision for everyone,” she said. “It’s fine that people who don’t consent to seeing nudity don’t see it. But what about those who want to see it?