Let's make it explicit: it's OK to talk about sex
Issuu balks at talk of fetishes and threesomes, but The Spectrum's Sex Issue is appropriate, informational
There’s nothing inappropriate about talking or writing about sex.
And it’s what about 86 percent of us are doing at UB, according to The Spectrum’s latest poll.
It only becomes improper, lewd, wrong and intimidating when it’s treated that way.
And that’s precisely what Issuu, the company that hosts The Spectrum’s digital copies on its website, did this week.
Spectrum editors worked over 20 hours Tuesday to produce a paper full of thoughtful, informative and well-researched and sourced articles and opinions about sex.
Issuu decided our topic – we don’t think anyone at Issuu bothered to read our content – was inappropriate and flagged The Sex Issue by imposing a “Content Warning” wall on it. The wall required users to verify that they were over 18 years of age by signing in before they could use it. Issuu also prevented our editors from sharing the site on Facebook, which is how we get many of our readers.
We find such action reprehensible. It’s so puritanical and ignorant it’s almost laughable. Almost.
The problem is that it is damaging. It’s damaging to us, to our reputation, to a 17-year-old freshman who would have to lie about his or her age in order to sign on and learn about the staggering statistics that came out of The Spectrum’s 2015 and 2014 sex surveys.
And, it’s censorship of the most basic and dangerous kind. It’s basic because it’s thoughtless. It’s dangerous because it’s unwarranted and sets a frightening precedent. First sex, then what?
To keep our readers informed, we posted our Sex Issue on Sribd, which did not impose a block.
Meanwhile, we complained to Issuu. Two days later, we have yet to receive a response beyond an automated reply.
Luckily, we do have allies.
The college media blog College Media Matters picked up the story and expressed outrage over the block. Then, The Huffington Post ran a version of the same piece. Popular journalist Jim Romenesko wrote about us, too. College newspaper editors and advisers around the country noticed and began to wonder if their sex issues were, too, at risk.
Our editors starting poking around on Issuu and quickly realized that Issuu had not only flagged our current issue, but had also retroactively flagged all past Spectrum sex issues. They all required a log in.
On Thursday, as censorship discussions whirled around college media sites, Issuu quietly lifted the ban on the current sex issue. The ban on two of the older issues remains.
Issuu offered no explanation or apology. The censorship lifted as wordlessly as it had begun. Now, the policy is even more convoluted and senseless. Now, only some of our content is behind the wall. Hence, only some of our content is deemed inappropriate.
Why? To whom?
We take Issuu’s silence and inconsistency as an affront to our staff, to our hard work, to our profession and to the First Amendment. If Issuu is going to censor, we and our readers deserve to understand why. Such haphazard censorship is keeping valuable information from our readers and silencing us on an important topic.
Issuu has created a stigma that we don’t feel or accept. And it is doing it wordlessly – without argument or explanation.
Last year’s front page – now behind a content wall – informs readers about the alarming amount of sexually active UB students who’ve never taken a test for sexually transmitted infections. This year’s talks about the numbers of students who abstain from sex, who have been sexually assaulted and who use birth control.
Students talk and joke about sex a lot. But they rarely have a chance to see statistics or listen to experts on the subject. The Spectrum’s Sex Issue offers a rare opportunity for serious, thought-provoking conversation about sex.
Issuu has the right to monitor its content, but it can’t block content that isn’t offensive or inappropriate. Condemning topics like threesomes, fetishes and sexuality stigmas – which this issue approaches – only serves to isolate and shame individuals. It closes, rather than opens conversations.
UB students should be able to easily access and read The Spectrum’s Sex Issue without sensing the content is lewd or that they are doing something wrong when they read it.
The same goes for students at other schools whose papers produce sex issues hosted by Issuu.
Today, this is a Spectrum problem. But if Issuu doesn’t change its policy, the censorship can and likely will reoccur. All college papers that use Issuu are at risk.
The danger is there. We must be vigilant and make sure students’ right to information isn’t violated.