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Dear Stack Exchange Community,

As many of you know, for I long time I have been allowed to show images that criticise the Chinese government on my profile for several years, for which I'm thankful.

Furthermore, I believed that this had strong meta support in threads such as:

However, a recent interaction the moderators has made be unsure about this, so I wanted to check what the community thinks.

Obviously this is not meant to be a personal criticism of anyone, and I know mods have a lot of work on their plate already, and that this is a difficult subject, so I thought that it would be better to ask a larger audience.

Could you please give your opinion if the following should be allowed or not, supposing of course that they contain no gore, nudity, etc., the only shocking part being the political content:

  • people imprisoned in Xinjiang concentration camps

  • Tiananmen Square Protests

  • Falun Gong (banned religion in China) and its persecution

  • making fun of Chinese chairman Xi Jinping

  • clearly labelled side-by-side comparisons between Nazi Germany and China, e.g.:

    • prisoners in Xinjiang Concentration Camps and Nazi Concentration Camps
    • Xi Jinping with the Young Pioneers of China and Hitler with Hitler Youth
    • Chinese flag with stars replaced by Swastikas

    If you believe all Nazi references should be banned but not anti-Chinese government ones, could you clarify the rationale, considering that all anti-Chinee government images are potentially offensive to some Chinese people, since they are censored in China?

Context

It started about a week ago. I had uploaded images of Nazi Germany next to images of the Chinese government to express my belief that the Chinese government is becoming more like the Nazi party, both of which I obviously disapprove of, as I think was clear from the context of the profile.

Quite simply, if all Nazi images are banned, even if to criticize the Nazis and other regimes, that's fine with me, just say that clearly "all images of Nazi Germany are banned regardless of context", and I'll promptly comply with the moderator instructions, as I always do.

The reason I'm writing this post however, is that I don't feel that the moderators were able to give clear enough guidelines on what is allowed or not.

Without clearer guidelines, I really don't know if I can show anti-Chinese government images or not without being under constant risk of suspension, so I felt compelled to ask.

I was given a 7 days suspension, and below I summarize what I believe were the key points of the conversation.

The initial message from the mods was:

We note that you were previously contacted for part of your profile being offensive. It has been brought to our attention that a significant part of your profile is filled with shock pictures, nazi imagery and similar images.

We'd note that people do use this site at work, and while users have some freedom over the content of their profile, there are fairly obvious lines that shouldn't be crossed.

We do not recommend that you restore the content we removed - specifically the images without checking back with us.

to which I replied:

Could you clarify if the following types of images are OK or not:

  • people imprisoned in Xinjiang concentration camps
  • Tiananmen square protests
  • making fun of Xi Jinping
  • Falun Gong persecution

supposing that they show no explicit gore or violence?

All the above are considered highly shocking to many Chinese people, due in part to their strict censorship rules, and not suitable for the workplace in China.

I have been using such images for many years to criticize what I believe are terrible events in China, and the decision so far has been that I was allowed to use them.

The intent of the Nazi images is clearly to compare both regimes to criticize the Chinese Government, which I believe is following the same path as the Nazis (e.g. Concentration Camps in Xinjiang, no freedom of speech, etc.), to help prevent such abuses from happening again in the future.

I just want to clearly understand the rationale of of why anti-CCP images are OK, but anti-Nazi ones aren't, so I can follow your rules correctly and save everyone's time in the future by correctly deciding which images are OK or not.

to which they replied:

Could you clarify if the following types of images are OK or not:

Its not the 'topic' but rather the content.

I don't understand this. Are some images of Nazi Germany OK but others not? In that case, which are fine and which aren't? Can you give specific examples of fine vs not fine? What's the difference between "Nazi Germany content" and "Nazi Germany topic"?

And they further replied (emphasis mine):

I just want to clearly understand the rationale of of why anti-CCP images are OK, but anti-Nazi ones aren't, so I can follow your rules correctly and save everyone's time in the future by correctly deciding which images are OK or not.

We never said that. We gave specific examples of objectionable content. If you realise something isn't suitable - that it is something shocking, and not suitable for the workplace, as you seem to realise, it shouldn't be on your profile.

This is the key sentence that makes me I understand that in their opinion all images censored by the Chinese government should not be posted.

Clearly, if a state censors a subject, it is de-facto illegal, and definitely not suitable for the workplace.

And any censored image is likely to be shocking to a part of the population, partly because the same state has made propaganda supporting this point of view, conditioning their people to think like that.

I then asked again for more specific guidelines, but there was no further reply after 7 days, so I felt it would be OK to bring this up here.

Thanks for your understanding.

Replies to selected comments about the validity of this question

You are preasking your closed question in the guise of a opinion based discussion

I believe the questions are not duplicates because each one is asking if a different specific thing is allowed or not, and I do not find it clear that one implies the other or not.

That question has top answer stating "it does not matter who the person is, including the president", Does the Be Nice policy require SE users to "be nice" to people who are not SE users (e.g. public figures)? which is a clear guideline I can understand and follow, even if I don't agree with it, so kudos for that answer.

But I don't see how that makes it clear if I can show Tiananmen pictures or not.

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    Yes, I am concerned about Chinese politics too. No, Stack Exchange is not a billboard and your profile is no exception. – Glorfindel Jun 5 at 17:02
  • The Chinese government most certainly needs to criticized, but why do you need to be tasteless (e.g., the profile picture)? You might achieve the opposite result. And why do you leave out the tens of millions indirectly murdered by Mao Zedong in the 1960s (it didn't start in 1989)? Is it because you don't want people to compare now and then? – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jun 8 at 16:36
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    @P.Mort. Is there a good standard for what defines something to be "tasteless"? And what's the point of bringing up the profile not covering all of China's history; is it wrong to want to bring awareness to present-day issues? I'm just confused as to why its worth bringing into your argument. – zcoop98 Jun 8 at 17:01
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The mods and/or SE staff might not have clear guidelines in place yet, and I bet the last thing they want to do now is to figure out such guidelines to answer your inquiry.

If you felt you needed to ask, then I would refrain from adding any of that to your profile.

Let's stay professional and keep excessive politics out of SO/SE. I too am not fond of the government of my country, but I don't advertise it here.


It's up to you of course, but if I were you, I would reduce the political part of the profile even further.

~3 sentences max, calmly and politely expressing your opinion. No trigger words. Maybe a single link.

I think the caricature profile pic is ok, at least a tame one like yours.
(edit: I could be underestimating how offensive it is to some. If you have doubts, then get rid of it.)

I would remove anything political from your username. It gets obtrusive when people need to @ you in comments.

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It's worth looking at things in fuller context.

It started about a week ago.

It didn't. You have more than one post asking about what's OK on a profile after it was moderated. Here's an undeleted one

Could you please give your opinion if the following should be allowed or not, supposing of course that they contain no gore, nudity, etc., the only shocking part being the political content:

Of course, the old profile did and it was brought to our attention by the community.

All the above are considered highly shocking to many Chinese people, due in part to their strict censorship rules, and not suitable for the workplace in China.

You're aware its not suitable for work for many. You have said so, not us.

people imprisoned in Xinjiang concentration camps

I don't think that would be safe for work for anyone.

Here's the tricky part here. You just filled your profile with DOZENS of shock pictures, after a previous warning for inappropriate personal attacks on a political figure. We're concerned any concrete suggestions of "what's OK and what's not" may result in trying to skirt the line, then sneaking past it, then doing a full cancan dance with a trained monkey on the other side.

As such, we decline to explicitly draw the out of bound markers for good taste and acceptability, but will let you know in an appropriate fashion should you cross it. You did and by quite a bit despite being warned previously.

While it's tempting to reply with the poster below -

Top, small font: "Scarfolk Council Public Information". In larger font below: "From 12nd January 1973 it will be no longer legal". Picture of confused animal puppet. Below picture: "Whatever you do". Then, with larger font: "Don't". Smaller font below: "Don't be one of those people who mistakes doing for not doing or you could face a fine." Bottom, same small font as top: "For more information please reread this poster"

I'd suggest you stay deeply within the realm of supporting causes you believe in, as opposed to having a library of anti CCP propaganda (which is amusingly similar to the pro CCP Chinese propaganda that we keep getting and spam-nuking) in your profile. Keep it short, constructive and to the point. Write it for humans - we're aware part of your goal is to try to convince the censorbots to block SE.

Keep it very much in mind that we have a diverse audience and many people use Stack Exchange at work, so if its something that the average person in most of the world may find distressing or shocking, it doesn't belong there.

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I recommend that images from Chinese history and news, or images criticising/mocking the Chinese government be allowed as long as they don't contain any gore, nudity, etc., i.e. the only potentially shocking aspect being their political implications.

While those may images inconvenience or offend some people, raising awareness of those events and ideas literally saves lives and prevents human rights violations, which is a more important goal in my opinion.

In this answer I do not wish to recommend or not if the side-by-side Nazi images are allowed or not, as I'd like to see what other people say instead.

However, whatever we decide, we should have clear and specific enough rules that people can reliably follow.

I believe that the guidelines:

  • cannot be offensive to anyone
  • must be suitable for work

are just too broad and subjective, and could be used to censor a very wide range of useful political speech.

If followed literally, they would basically forbid publishing anything that is censored in an authoritarian governments, therefore making us complicit with their actions.

Furthermore, I believe that the following meta threads already give strong support for allowing images which are potentially offensive and possibly not suitable for work, therefore contradicting those guidelines:

Even images in support of Western presidents can be considered offensive to some people who oppose them. E.g. I know closely people who would immediately stop being your friends if you showed support for Brazil's president Bolsanaro, and I suspect Trump/Biden.

Guidelines such as "any Nazi references must be clearly not supporting that ideology" and "all Nazi references in images are forbidden" however are good examples of specific enough guidelines if the community wants to set them.

If the community does decide to allow anti-Chinese government images, but forbid all Nazi references, I would like to point out two issues:

  • it implicitly suggests that "we can offend some Chinese people, but we can't offend anyone from the West", which feels discriminatory, and is generally counter productive to the spread of freedom and democracy
  • it prevents the dissemination of some potentially important political ideas. If a Government is truly acting more and more like the Nazis (which is of course a very subjective political opinion), it would be useful for people to know it

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

Replies to selected comments

(there were several comments originally, but mods now tend to delete most comments and replies)

Yes, I am concerned about Chinese politics too. No, Stack Exchange is not a billboard and your profile is no exception.

Profiles are always advertisements, be it for yourself, for you company, or for your beliefs and politics has been explicitly considered an allowed topic in the past: User's political display name triggering government action against users who view it - what should I do?

I think one group or another doesn't want their own complaint watered, promoted, or compared with a different complaint - they want their own complaint to be recognized exactly for what it is, not categorized as somewhat similar or in ways comparable to another - to retain their identity (a key component of their complaint). So don't bring up one specific category in the same breath as another, no https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uyghur_genocide vs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_concentration_camps or anything else (and there's more than a few).

While current events are not as serious as in Nazi Germany perhaps, I do believe they are very serious, and possibly comparable to earlier stages of the Holocaust.

The goal of studying history is to predict it, and in doing so, comparisons are inevitable.

There has even been specific Jewish support of Uighurs, including in the context of the Holocaust: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/24/jewish-leaders-use-holocaust-day-to-decry-persecution-of-uighurs "Jewish leaders use Holocaust Day to decry persecution of Uighurs"

My feeling is that this context it is clear enough that the goal of the comparison to highlight the importance of the Uighur issues, and not to reduce the important of the Holocaust.

If you cause enough complaints SE reserves the right not to promote your speech.

Although this rule satisfies my "clear/specific enough" criteria, it could also be used very unfairly, e.g. if I say "I'm Christian", and 1000 atheists flag the profile as offensive, should it come down? Similar cases would be "I'm homosexual/heterosexual" or "I vote for Trump/Biden".

I believe the answer is no.

I believe the only fair solution is to reply to those flags with a clear public guideline of what is allowed or not, e.g. "promoting your religion/sexual orientation/candidate is allowed".

And the best way to achieve such guidelines is through meta questions.

Without such guidelines, it becomes very risky to make any meaningful political statement, since any meaningful political statement will have opponents.

Offensive profiles - where to draw the line? says:

When a profile page or avatar has, or is likely to create a disruption, we need to be made aware of it and investigate. We might not take action in some cases, but we really do need to be aware of it.

The "We might not take action in some cases" accounts for those protected cases, which I'm trying to understand if the aforementioned issues are part of or not.

The mods and/or SE staff might not have clear guidelines in place yet, and I bet the last thing they want to do now is to figure out such guidelines to answer your question. If you have to ask, then I would refrain from adding any of that to your profile. Let's keep excessive politics out of SO.

This question attempts to help the community decide for the mods to factor out the work. Then in the future mods can just point all flags to specific answers, thus saving their time.

Politics should be posted on Twitter, not on Stack Overflow. (paraphrased)

Twitter is blocked in China, so posting there has no effect.

By limiting where freedom of speech can be used, you limit freedom of speech itself.

Nobody limits your free speech, we don't withhold you from going out on the street and yell whatever you want. Should SE allow everything on its platform, no. That is the same as you don't allow everything in your own house.

I never said the community has to allow anything to be posted. The community can decide to allow or forbid whatever they want.

But if the community decides to forbid talking about human rights violations, we become accomplices with them.

The Internet is the new street. E.g. instead of going to the streets to work, people are literally using the Internet.

The Chinese government most certainly needs to criticized, but why do you need to be tasteless (e.g., the profile picture)? You might achieve the opposite result.

Humor is one of the most powerful weapons against dictators: https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/04/05/why-dictators-dont-like-jokes/

And why do you leave out the tens of millions indirectly murdered by Mao Zedong in the 1960s (it didn't start in 1989)? Is it because you don't want people to compare now and then?

I can only fit 3k characters in my profile name, and recent events are more powerful than old ones. Even some Chinese today already recognize that Mao's government was bad.

Replies to parts of HolyBlackCat's answer

The mods and/or SE staff might not have clear guidelines in place yet, and I bet the last thing they want to do now is to figure out such guidelines to answer your inquiry.

As I argue in this answer above, this makes it very risky to post any political content on Stack Exchange, and greatly limits expression.

If you felt you needed to ask, then I would refrain from adding any of that to your profile.

This rule is too subjective and hard too determine without actually asking or just posting and risking a ban.

Let's stay professional and keep excessive politics out of SO/SE.

What is the rationale? Especially compared to the upside of saving lives/improving human rights.

~3 sentences max, calmly and politely expressing your opinion. No trigger words. Maybe a single link.

Setting arbitrary numerical like this does have the upside that it would limit how many decisions mods have to make at once.

However it also enormously limits freedom of expression.

And it does not clarify the crucial question: which content can go or not in those three paragraphs. Can I talk about Tiananmen? Can I talk about Falun Gong? Etc.

Everything censored by a dictatorship is likely to also be a trigger word.

If we only whitelisted a few subjects instead, this would allow for enormously greater freedom.

I think the caricature profile pic is ok, at least a tame one like yours.

(at the time of posting, this showed Xi Jinping photoshopped as Winnie the Pooh, a popular meme of the time)

Could you clarify pictures of peaceful students at Tiananmen or a person practicing Falun Gong are also tame enough?

I believe that all three would be equally offensive to many Chinese people, and all three are equally forbidden in China. Do you disagree?

I would remove anything political from your username. It gets obtrusive when people need to @ you in comments.

Currently very explicitly allowed at: User's political display name triggering government action against users who view it - what should I do?

Replies to Journeyman Geek's answer

It started about a week ago.

It didn't. You have more than one post asking about what's OK on a profile after it was moderated. Here's an [undeleted](User's political display name triggering government action against users who view it - what should I do? one)

It was not made clear in that answer that you are not allowed to ask if something is allowed on a profile or not.

The top answer actually gives a concrete yes/no answer, which I commend.

And they are not duplicates because you can't deduce the answer of this one from that one unrelated. Except perhaps for the winnie the poo subquestion, which https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/366173/200117 said is fine, in contradiction to that answer.

Below however you have made it clear that one is not allowed to ask, so I won't ask again.

However, this goes against several precedents, e.g.: User's political display name triggering government action against users who view it - what should I do? which is asking what is legal on a profile or not. It is also potentially unfair as it makes mods less accountable.

Could you please give your opinion if the following should be allowed or not, supposing of course that they contain no gore, nudity, etc., the only shocking part being the political content:

Of course, the old profile did and it was brought to our attention by the community.

Uploading images with those elements was a mistake, no complaints on that.

This question is explicitly about the mods refusing to explain if the ones that do not contain those elements are allowed or not, which so I can correctly decide in the future.

All the above are considered highly shocking to many Chinese people, due in part to their strict censorship rules, and not suitable for the workplace in China.

You're aware its not suitable for work for many. You have said so, not us.

Exactly, like everything else censored by a dictatorship. Which has been explicitly allowed at User's political display name triggering government action against users who view it - what should I do? and which forbidding would mean being accomplices to a dictatorship.

Here's the tricky part here. You just filled your profile with DOZENS of shock pictures, after a previous warning for inappropriate personal attacks on a political figure. We're concerned any concrete suggestions of "what's OK and what's not" may result in trying to skirt the line, then sneaking past it, then doing a full cancan dance with a trained monkey on the other side.

As such, we decline to explicitly draw the out of bound markers for good taste and acceptability, but will let you know in an appropriate fashion should you cross it. You did and by quite a bit despite being warned previously.

As I mentioned earlier in the answer, not giving any suggestions allows mods to basically ban anything, which is unfair.

I'd suggest you stay deeply within the realm of supporting causes you believe in, as opposed to having a library of anti CCP propaganda

I care deeply about all anti-dictatorship causes, only I can decide that.

(which is amusingly similar to the pro CCP Chinese propaganda that we keep getting and spam-nuking)

If in their profiles, I recommend it should be kept as in mine. If outside of profile, should nuked as if I posted it.

Keep it short, constructive and to the point. Write it for humans - we're aware part of your goal is to try to convince the censorbots to block SE.

The images are made for humans. By limiting the number of images, you limit how much information I can give to Chinese people behind the firewall.

Anything that is censored in China can potentially trigger an SE block. The more information for humans, the more likely a block.

If something is not made for humans, it is is less likely to trigger a block than something made for humans.

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    Nobody limits your free speech, we don't withhold you from going out on the street and yell whatever you want. Should SE allow everything on its platform, no. That is the same as you don't allow everything in your own house. – Luuklag Jun 8 at 7:30
  • @Luuklag The trouble is that the current SE rules about what is and is not allowed are incredibly ambiguous. – AnOccasionalCashew Jun 8 at 22:22
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    @AnOccasionalCashew they might be, but that's why you don't get banned outright when you overstep the line. You will get a warning first. If you continue to seek that line afterwards you might want to re-consider your actions and intentions. – Luuklag Jun 8 at 22:23
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    @Luuklag Your jab at my and other's intentions was unnecessary and disingenuous. To date, SE has explicitly permitted some amount of political advocacy in one's profile. It is perfectly reasonable to seek such permitted limits in order to express oneself while also respecting the rules. It is not reasonable for such rules to be vague and contradictory. – AnOccasionalCashew Jun 9 at 3:44
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If you are serious about academic questions and answers, keep professional and as scholarly as possible. If you join such a group to spam others, to woo supporters, or other purposes only of your personal interests, you may want to show more respect to others who value hard evidence and truth, with due patience to allow time for investigation, the same manner in problem solving.

Science is not advanced from media influence, majority voice, or repetition of hearsay. Do the right thing in the right place.

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    I am serious about science and technology, but I'm also serious about human rights. Politics are already clearly allowed as per: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/267368/… – Ciro Santilli新疆棉花TRUMP BAN BAD Jun 8 at 7:17
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    It's more than possible for someone to be completely "serious about academic questions and answers" and yet still be passionate about personal interests; you've made a false dichotomy by implying they're mutually exclusive. The OP has also made no indication that they don't value "hard evidence and truth" or "time for investigation", which you heavily imply. – zcoop98 Jun 8 at 14:27

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