3D Printing Censorship Raises Important Questions…Maybe

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There was a moment in my childhood when I learned of the existence of a man named Dick Buttkiss that I realized perfection existed in tiny pockets of real life. I’m watching my 11-year-old son enjoy the same found humor through the realization that if he says “dictionary” very slowly, he can get away with saying “dick” in front of his mother. If you are the kind of person who enjoys a moment in the intellect-free zone that causes us to laugh when the phrase “that’s what she said” is added to nearly anything, then you may already be familiar with the cartoon figure Dickbutt, copyrighted by artist K.C. Green. After all, it includes two of the elemental ingredients, the veritable primary colors of the humor color wheel: male genitalia and a reference to the gluteus maximus.

So, who’s not laughing?

hJUdBFnWell, my mother probably. And it appeared that the folks at Thingiverse weren’t laughing either. Or so it seemed when a reddit user found their search for ‘dickbutt’ on the site returned zero results. Bringing the complaint of censorship and the ever popular slippery slope argument, ‘dokool’ started a thread to bemoan the restriction of the availability of such content, particularly a dickbutt chess set. Contributor ‘hovissimo’ expressed measured dissatisfaction with Thingiverse’s application of censorial power in this case:

“I’m of the opinion that censorship needs to be applied very carefully, and I don’t like how Thingiverse decides what to censor. I’m not terribly surprised because Makeerbot Industries (who owns Thingiverse) has also backed out of the Open Hardware movement, so topics like freedom and liberty don’t appear to be very important to them.”

This set off a rash of conversation, many participants of which assigned the disappearance of the dickbutt chess set not to Victorian morality but rather the fact that it was a low quality post not worthy of Thingiverse. What was quickly discovered, however, is that the chess set in question actually IS still available through Thingiverse. This revelation caused the uproar to die down immediately. Just kidding. Finding this out seemed to have no impact on the ability of people to develop strong opinions about censorship and the conversation continued for days unhindered by facts.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 11.17.34 AMIt turns out that what Thingiverse may have done is gotten rid of some of the search terms that bring up the creations most likely to be searched by the easily offended moralist and 11-year-old boys (an interesting set of bedfellows). This does not mean that they have removed the post, but rather that they may be making an effort to filter NSFW content. On the other hand, it may just be a poorly designed search algorithm.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 11.40.01 AMThe bottom line is that Thingiverse can choose to not offer whatever content it pleases as long as it is not making those decisions based on race, creed, disability, etc. and is doing so of its own free will. My husband is a carpenter, but he’s not required to accept every job someone offers him (granted no one has tried to hire him to craft wooden dickbutts) and I doubt that if he declined work it would be called censorship. The internet is an enormous place and should Thingiverse one day decide to add mutated male genitalia to the list of verboten files, along with guns and knives, it would be well within their right, and it would have little to no effect on the ability of those seeking these products to find them. Google doesn’t much care what you search for, trust me.

So, were important issues raised? Maybe. Did dickbutt just get a lot more publicity than it needed? Absolutely. And as ‘swefpelego’ pointed out:

“If you like this dickbutt thing, hey you have the whole rest of the internet for it. They’re not like blocking Syrian refugees from using twitter to speak out against violence, it’s an erect penis [s]ticking out of a butt FFS…”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain to my editors why I’ve used up an entire year’s worth of puerile phrases in a single posting. Discuss this hot topic in the 3D Printing Censorship forum over at 3DPB.com.

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