“Photoshop this girl: Photoshop anything on her, about her and can someone please Photoshop her fat :-D.”

This is a recent post made on PhotoshopForums.com, a community that I manage. I don’t think that “make this person fat” is all that unique of a request for Photoshop and graphic design focused communities. After all, one of the things that people use the software for is to manipulate images. Sometimes they make people skinnier, sometimes they make them bald (we have had a surprising number of requests for people who want to see what they would look like bald before they actually shave their head), sometimes they put them on a bicycle.

That is to say, I am sure there are communities that would allow this request. I don’t know that I want to necessarily condemn them (it’s easy to get judgmental, harder to be patient and compassionate). But I just know that I don’t want to be one of them.

I don’t pretend to be on some high horse. I’m a live and let live kind of guy. I don’t think that jokes based on physical appearance are universally bad or that anyone who makes one should be criticized. When comedians use their weight to make a joke, if it’s funny, I laugh. I miss John Candy and Chris Farley.

But I just don’t like requests like the one mentioned above. I don’t like the tone, I don’t like what the intent could be. “Anything on her, about her” makes my skin crawl. You could say I’m judging them prematurely, but that’s part of what community management is about, seeing what the intent could be, seeing what the end result could be, and deciding if it is good to preemptively take action.

With this, what’s the best that could happen? Two friends are having people Photoshop pictures of each other in a prank war, perhaps. It’s all in good fun (for them).

What’s the worst? This image is being used to bully or psychologically harm someone, who then does something drastic. At best, they are made to feel bad. At worst, it could contribute to that something drastic.

Which isn’t to say that I think it would be my fault or that I would be the party responsible if that were to happen. I wouldn’t be legally responsible (not in the U.S., anyway) and I’m not sure if it’s fair to think I’d be ethically responsible. But I don’t really want to find out. I like to manage my communities with a clear conscience.

As such, this was my decision: no. Not on the community I manage. The post was removed and though a ban was considered, I decided that it wasn’t necessary and that it would be better if I personally told them that a request like that was inappropriate because of what it could lead to.

Too often we complain about things we don’t like without starting with ourselves. As Michael Jackson once said, “if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.” I can’t stop them from going somewhere else, but I can stop them from doing it on my community.

I should say that this isn’t some new position from me. Not like we would have allowed this 5 years ago or something. I’ve always been cautious about how Photoshop can play in a role in damaging people’s lives and I try to manage the community with that in mind. There are times when it can be a gray area.

But seeing the comment, it reminded me: if something unsettles you, don’t forget to start in your own house.