The author and artists 14-year-old blog, in the same vein as his transgressive novels, was taken down by Google even erasing an unfinished book
Two weeks ago, writer and artist Dennis Cooper was checking his Gmail when something peculiar happened: the page was refreshed and he was notified that his account had been deactivated along with the blog that hed maintained for 14 years.
Coopers DCs Blog had been a prime destination for fans of experimental literature and avant garde writing. The author of such acclaimed and transgressive novels as Frisk and Closer would showcase the work of other writers, while the blog also hosted his recent novels which use gifs instead of text.
An American now based in Paris, Cooper made several complaints on Googles forums and subsequently enlisted a lawyer to approach the California-based company.
He talked multiple times to Googles lawyer and theyve basically stonewalled us, Cooper told the Guardian. I cant even get a response from them or anything. I have no idea why they did it or whats going on.
The suspension of Coopers blog has been labeled as censorship by some in the art world and raised concerns about Googles power to eliminate alternative voices.
Stuart Comer, a curator at MoMA and a longtime fan of Coopers work, said this is effectively a return to the culture wars of the 80s and 90s.
I think this is definitely censorship. The problem is nobody knows what the specific issue is and certainly Dennis has posted images that one might find troubling, Comer said. Its just yet another means by which certain members of the government or certain internet conglomerates have decided to make it impossible for culture to be produced.
Cooper updated DCs blog six times a week, highlighting film, fiction and music he enjoyed. He had a featured post, twice a month, where he would take ads by escorts and highlight their literary qualities. Coopers work often depicts sexuality and violence in graphic terms, and some of the writing and images dealt with similar themes.
First amendment rights to free speech in the United States are constrained when one is operating in the world of corporations such as Google or Facebook. In America you have first amendment rights but that only protects you against public censorship, said Pati Hertling, an art lawyer and independent curator. Because its Google, theyre a private corporation, its a private realm, they can do whatever they want.
Googles terms of services state they can suspend or stop providing our services to you if you do not comply with our terms or policies or if we are investigating suspected misconduct. However, users are entitled to a reasonable advanced warning where reasonably possible, which it seems Cooper did not receive.
Cooper himself is uncertain whether censorship was the motivation behind taking down his site. His blog has a warning that it contains adult content and he noted that other Blogspot accounts feature pornographic imagery.
The ramifications of the deactivation are severe. His newest gif novel, Zacs Freight Elevator, which hed been working on for seven months, was exclusively hosted on the blog and is now lost. His deleted email account also contained more than a decades worth of contacts, as well as offers to talk and perform.
His network of fans have come out in support of the blog. Three followers who work at Google launched simultaneous internal investigations into the blogs closure. One senior Google staffer worked with Cooper to resolve the issue until 2am one night to no avail.
Other Silicon Valley giants have come under scrutiny for censoring online content in spaces where they effectively have a monopoly on the audience. Most recently Facebook was accused of drowning out conservative views with its news algorithms.
I think this might seem like a small thing, its the sort of small thing that accumulates to a very big thing, Comer said. The moment you start attacking anyones artistic freedom, it snowballs.
Cooper is hoping public pressure will push Google to respond but is resigned to the fact that he may have to sue in order to regain his work.
His advice to other artists who work predominantly online is to maintain your own domain and back everything up.
As long as you back everything up. I dont see really the danger, he said. But if youre at the mercy of Google or some place like Google, obviously Im a living example of not to be blind like that and think that everything is hunky dory.