Ah, I See You Have A Policy: A Screenshot Essay on the Trade in Human Remains
Warning: There are many photographs of human remains in this post.
There is a literature on the online trade in human remains going back to at least Huxley and Finnegan’s 2004 piece on eBay in the Journal of Forensic Science, and since then, several academics have been active in discussing the ethical, moral, and legal dimensions of this trade, producing a steady stream of articles. At the same time, the trade was transformed by the merging of social media with marketplace and ad-driven revenue models, expanding in scope and reach. Several platforms, over the last decade, have added wording to their prohibited categories of goods that deals with human remains. Let’s walk through some of that.
Ebay, 2012: ” [the policy prohibits] “humans, the human body, or any human body parts” but expressly permits “clean, articulated (jointed), non-Native American skulls and skeletons used for medical research.” (Marsh, 2012, HuffPost). Today?
Have we accomplished anything? eBay certainly has, I think, and that’s worth thinking about. Perhaps an auction site where sales are also dependent on reputation responds better to moral suasion than the other platforms. When is it in a platform’s best interest to actually police its own policies?
Human remains are in a nebulous zone, legally. In Canada, the law to my mind seems pretty clear:
See ACCO for more on various illicit and illegal trades happening across social media. For more on our project studying the trade in human remains, see bonetrade.github.io.
Posts referred to have also been saved to the Internet Archive.