Imgur’s library burns: not everything is permanent on the Internet

Imgur, one of the largest image hosts, is making a clean sweep by deleting all its content of a sexual nature, which is inactive or which has not been contributed by listed users. Thus stripping entire sub-forums of their visuals.

“It literally seems immoral, like they’re destroying a huge section of the internet with the snap of their fingers. On Reddit, a site that helped propel Imgur to the top of image hosting platforms, Internet users are rising up. 

In an April 19 update to its terms of service, Imgur said it would “remove old, unused, and inactive content from the platform that is not linked to a user account, including nudity, pornography, and sexually explicit content”. Users have until May 15, 2023, to back up their data.

Imgur hosts thousands of images: part of web culture // Source: Imgur Gallery

The End of NSFW (Not Safe for the Web) Content

Imgur previously allowed anyone to upload images to post them in forums or blogs by copying a simple link, even while remaining anonymous. 

Some of the content was visible in a public photo gallery subject to stricter community rules, where sexually explicit content was already banned. From now on, they will simply be banned from the platform, which may well strip the NSFW (“Not Safe For Work”) sub-forums of Reddit of their content, notes the specialized site Tom’s Guide. The hosting service should thus capture new traffic.

To identify the content it now targets, Imgur explains that it will use automated detection systems, in addition to human moderation. “We will not issue warnings, account suspensions, or bans related to these automatic reports – but it may impact what is allowed to be submitted or contributed,” explains the site. The artistic nude being for example allowed, a user can contest a report that he considers unjustified.

The Imgur hosting site has changed its terms of use and announced the removal of huge amounts of content // Source: Imgur

Digital compendium

But for Redditors, the problem does not lie in deleting pornographic images, but in eradicating old content that is inactive or posted without an account by Internet users wishing to remain anonymous. A decision is also explained by the fact that storing data is not free for Imgur.

“Tons of artistic subreddits (…) will be buried alive. Half of the links will disappear. This will destroy all image-based subreddits, from cat photos to spaceship schematics, to 3d renders, to interior design. Tons of amazing content that evaporates in the blink of an eye. Wasn’t there a warranty release in their terms of use that their content would be preserved regardless of future rules“? asks Redditor.

On Reddit, Internet users are alarmed by the deletion of content on Imgur // Source: Reddit

In 2019, Imgur already announced that it would no longer publicly display content related to NSFW subsections of Reddit. The host then assured that no content would be deleted or moved, that the links would not be “broken”, and that legal NSFW images could continue to be hosted on the site, as noted by The Verge.

This new decision, contrary to the previous one, reminds us that the permanence of the content so decried on the web is based on the will of the major platforms. However, no law requires them to keep the data stored on the web, which is also part of our collective culture.

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