GIFs, like virtually every other internet phenomenon, reflect characteristics of their founders. GIFs can convey a message succinctly and without the need for severe analysis or much effort whatsoever. Despite their benefits, GIFs of course carry some downside that stems from the inescapable human condition responsible for their creation, as showcased by Digital Blackface and the persistent cultural appropriation that GIFs enable. However, the entity itself deserves only so much blame for the final product; malleability is inherent in the form of GIFs and to remove such a feature would be to compromise GIF’s ability to represent present day.
Facebook’s difficulty in curbing misuse without compromising the integrity and free-speech parameters of the site mirrors the same issues faced by GIPHY and other GIF generators. Facebook’s purpose of connecting individuals and providing an open platform on which to share information pertinent to people’s lives necessitates a lack of censorship, especially because of the subjectivity involved in determining what crosses the threshold. Recent and unanimously-unacceptable breaches, though, including terrorist attacks enabled by the site, live-streams of grotesque deaths, and racist content have forced the company to review its policies and implement face-saving measures (no pun intended.) Certain executives continue to maintain that the benefits of the open-ended nature of Facebook make its downsides worthwhile; Andrew Bosworth, a high-ranking vice president, stated in a 2016 memo that, effectively, any harm done by Facebook is justified by its connecting properties. See his exact wording here. While “Bos” ‘s sentiment may be misguided, he alludes to Facebook’s underlying and prevailing purpose and its detachment from users’ abuse. In other words, so long as demand for the product remains, the externalities sum up to an occupational hazard. While Facebook must do what it can to reduce boldfaced abuse of its platform and alleviate universal concerns, we as consumers are somewhat to blame for accepting Facebook and the ugly side that comes with it. Without protest or an effort to abstain or locate new platforms (monopoly implications arise here), we are at best complicit and at worst responsible. And, ultimately, GIPHY and Facebook provide a valuable, human service that suffers from the whims of our condition and have subjectivity barriers that, barring the universal problems, prevent some dubious material from being censored.
GIPHY’s corporate logo.