‘Do Not Draw a Penis:’ A Game About Automated Censorship

Mozilla
Mozilla
Jun 17 · 3 min read

Introducing ‘Do Not Draw a Penis,’ a Mozilla Creative Media Awardee

Google’s Quick, Draw! data set — “the world’s largest doodling data set” — is sprawling: some 50 million doodles. But a certain phallic doodle, which has been popular since antiquity, is suspiciously absent from the data set. Today Mozilla and Moniker are filling that gap.

The exclusion of this phallic doodle represents a broader issue in today’s digital society. Our online lives are increasingly governed by a small handful of platforms. And so companies like Google and Facebook get to decide which content is “inappropriate” and should be removed.

This is the idea behind “Do Not Draw a Penis,” a mischievous, web-based game that spotlights the dilemma of platforms’ automated censorship systems. The game launches publicly today at https://donotdrawapenis.com.

“Do Not Draw a Penis” is created by Moniker, the Amsterdam-based design studio. The project is supported by a Mozilla Creative Media Award.

When playing “Do Not Draw a Penis,” users visit a blank webpage, wield a pencil as their cursor, and are encouraged to doodle. An AI moderator comments aloud on users’ doodles: “you are drawing a face,” or “a skyscraper!”

But when users draw something that resembles a penis, the AI moderator takes control, erasing the doodle and chastising the user: “We trust you have read and agreed with our community guidelines,” it might lecture.

Says Roel Wouters, the co-creator of the project and a designer at Moniker: “The game is fun and cheeky, but it gets at a more serious truth: Big tech companies are imposing their own morals and standards on millions of users around the world. This dynamic assumes the worldview of a few — usually developers in Silicon Valley — should be exported to other countries, demographics, and societies.”

Wouters continues: “Fewer penis doodles online probably won’t make the world a worse place. But what if platforms decide to censor art and valid political speech?”

As mentioned before, there is a bonus: “Do Not Draw a Penis” is collecting all of the phallic doodles that users create and publishing them as an appendix to the Google Quickdraw data set. You can download them here.

Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards are part of our mission to support a healthy internet. They fuel the people and projects on the front lines of the internet health movement — from digital artists in the Netherlands to computer scientists in the United Arab Emirates to science fiction writers in the U.S.

The latest cohort of Awardees uses art and advocacy to shine a light on the AI that influences our everyday lives. AI today is invisible to most of us, yet has an outsized impact: The AI behind our screens influences what news we read, who we date, if we’re hired for that dream job, and whether or not we qualify for a loan or parole.

Says Mark Surman, Mozilla’s Executive Director: “Artificial intelligence is increasingly interwoven into our everyday lives. Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards seek to raise awareness about the potential of AI, and ensure the technology is used in a way that makes our lives better rather than worse.”

Learn more about upcoming Creative Media Award projects.

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