With his smartphone in hand, Phillip Kremer is demonstrating how he can take an ordinary picture of someone and turn it into something … different.
“And then you can start moving parts around,” he says with a laugh. And voila, Kanye West is suddenly a Cyclops.
Kremer calls himself a fringe artist and is known for his digital distortions of peoples’ faces. Some are random people he finds through a Google search, but others are high-profile, such as front-running presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He’s built a following of about 54,000 people on Instagram.
That was until Thursday, when his account was shut down with no explanation. The same thing happened about two years ago before he opened a new account under a different name.
“I have never gotten a warning,” he says. “It’s not that I won’t adhere to their policies, it’s just that I can’t find the policy that I’m breaking to adhere to.”
Some would say that the images — some of which manipulate faces in grotesque ways — are disturbing. But there’s no nudity, no profanity, and nothing violent, which are some common reasons for an Instagram account to be deactivated, according to the Community Guidelines of the social media platform. Could it be an issue of copyright infringement?
Kremer says he’s asked himself that question, but believes it falls under fair use, meaning that permission isn’t required by the copyright owner if the material is used for parody. But sometimes it’s a case-by-case situation.
The social media site’s General Conditions section says they reserve the right to terminate a user’s access for any reason — without notice — at any time.
Something similar happened last year when women were posting images of their menstrual cycle. One image was removed twice, leading to an outcry from feminists. Eventually, Instagram restored the pictures, apologizing for what they called an “accidental” removal.
Kremer sees it as raising a bigger discussion about censorship and freedom of speech. He says he’ll give Instagram a week to respond before creating another new account.
Statement from Gabe Madway, Instagram PR
Although I’m not allowed to comment on individual accounts, I can tell you that the depictions of Donald Trump had nothing to do with the account being removed.