The Nipple Gestapo: When Facebook Censors Nude Art

One post, two nipples, and a Rubens. That’s all you need to get censored on Facebook.

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Pablo Picasso, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Retrieved from History Stack. | Michelangelo, “David.” Retrieved from Wikipedia Commons. Author: Jörg Bittner Unna. |Peter Paul Rubens, “Venus, Mars, and Cupid.” Retrieved from Wikipedia Commons.

A cultured person would perhaps recognize and appreciate certain great works of art, such as Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Ruben’s Venus, Mars and Cupid. But Facebook thinks otherwise. In fact, if Facebook runs a museum, it might be like in this video:

What you just saw was a video made by VisitFlanders, a tourist organization in reaction to Facebook’s censorship policies. What happened? Basically, in June 2018 Facebook blocked an advertisement for Rubens House Museum because it contained Ruben’s nude figures. The goal of the video was to show how ridiculous the Facebook restrictions are. 

The Rubes case is not the only time when Facebook censored works of fine art as inappropriate. In March, Facebook removed a photo of Venus of Willendorf, a 30,000-year-old sculpture, from a user’s account. Perhaps they are not fond of a little curve?

animation by JELLYGUMMIES

Later, a Facebook spokesperson apologized, explaining that they had mistaken the user’s post with an advert. Facebook says that statues are not included in their nudity laws, so it really was a mistake. 

Many artists aren’t that lucky when their artworks are taken down by a platform. If they post something that a platform considers “inappropriate,” they have their account blocked or deleted, without any warning, or a way to get their content back. 

However, there are many artists and social media users who object to media companies censoring images at all. They claim that the best way to protect nonadults from nude or sexual content is simply to flag it as “mature content.” A good example of such a site is DeviantArt. This has the advantage of assuring the artist or user that the material has not been lost, and the viewer that they can judge sensibility for themselves.

Artists’ response to censorship had taken further steps. Some have even become social media activists, campaigning against censorship on social media, like the group Artists Against Art Censorship.

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But going back to Facebook. This August, Facebook censored (several times!) Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for promoting its Picasso exhibit.  Again, it was the cursed mixture of nudity, art, and advertisement. The cases of museums’ advertisement materials being censored receive more news coverage, but, as I pointed out before, many works of art fall under Facebook’s nudity law.

So what’s this whole nudity policy about? The Facebook community standards page states that

We restrict the display of nudity or sexual activity because some people in our community may be sensitive to this type of content.

On the one hand, as nicely pointed out in the artnetnews article, Facebook’s problem with censorship might be way more restrained than it seems.

GIF by BLINK-182

Facebook is a private, American company. Zuckerberg and his mates can afford to get backlash for accidentally censoring a legendary piece of art once in a while, or taking down an artist every now and then, if, in the end, they succeed in keeping out of Facebook the content they don’t want. They do try to keep their platform under the rules they have established.

So, Facebook executives can set up any rule they want (at least in theory), and moderate their platform in any way they want. Users have to decide whether they want to be on a platform that censors nudity in art.

Should Facebook legislate laws that impact 2.23 billion users worldwide? Facebook is only a corporation that happened to own a very successful social media platform, that happened to become an inseparable part of day-to-day life. 

As quoted in The Daily Caller, Zuckerberg, the chairman of Facebook, admitted that

“It’s easier to build an AI system to detect a nipple than what is hate speech.”

Now Facebook and big corporations seem to decide on which nipple is appropriate to show and which one is not. It is definitely easier to censor anything that might offend somebody, even if it is a nipple taken out of context. But, who the f*** is Mark Zuckerberg to cover the nipples?  

Share your thoughts in the comment section.

2 thoughts on “The Nipple Gestapo: When Facebook Censors Nude Art

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