In a move that pays tribute to the Justice Department’s 2002 decision to throw drapes over the Spirit of Justice’s exposed aluminum breasts, Facebook temporarily banned the New Yorker‘s page for two black dots on a black-and-white cartoon.
According to the New Yorker, who has taken to calling to event “Nipplegate,” the following Mike Stevens cartoon prompted a temporary ban for violating Facebook’s community standards on “Nudity and Sex”:
UPDATE: I’ve received this response from a Facebook spokesperson:
“Recently, we mistakenly blocked a cartoon as part of our efforts to keep the site safe for all and quickly worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified. Facebook is a place where almost a billion people share click more than a trillion links a day. Our dedicated User Operations Team reviews millions of pieces of this content a day to help keep Facebook safe for all. Our policies are enforced by a team of reviewers in several offices across the globe. This team looks at hundreds of thousands of reports every week, and as you might expect, occasionally, we make a mistake and block a piece of content we shouldn’t have. We have already taken steps to prevent this from happening in the future and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.”
Yep. That’s it. We haven’t tastefully cropped the cartoon to remove the giant penis, hardcore depiction of actual intercourse, or tasteless borderline child pornography. It appears that those two little black dots that form the woman’s nipples were simply too hot to handle for Facebook and its outsourced content moderators.
According to a content standards manual that manifested earlier this year, the cartoon technically violates two sex & nudity restrictions outlines by Facebook:
“Any obvious sexual activity, even if naked parts are hidden from view by hands, clothing or other objects. Cartoon/art included. Foreplay allowed (kissing, groping, etc.) even for same-sex individuals.
Naked ‘private part,’ including females nipple bulges and naked butt cracks; male nipples are ok.”
So, the two lines used to indicate males nipples are fine, but the two rounder dots used to indicate female nipples are not fine. If the cartoon had included two lesbians making out and grabbing each other’s crotches, it may have been allowed to stand, however. Makes sense.
The Facebook terms of service touches on banned content, but in a more general manner:
You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
Not much of that there, either.
I’ve written about Facebook’s breast phobia before, after the network removed an article I had posted on the site because it violated their rules on sex & nudity. They also suspended by account temporarily. The article in question contained an image of a buxom blond in lingerie, but no nipples or other private parts.
And definitely no “bulging nipples.”
Facebook has fought users on this for awhile now. One notable case involved breastfeeding activists, who felt that Facebook’s ban on breastfeeding photos not only lacked common sense, but was offensive to all the mothers out there who don’t think breastfeeding equates to pornography.
By the way, Facebook’s content guidelines still ban breastfeeding photos that contain any sort of “extraneous” nudity, such as having a breast exposed that’s not actively being used by the child. “Our policies strive to fit the needs of a diverse community while respecting everyone’s interest in sharing content that is important to them,” said Facebook at the time. They also noted that most content removals only occur after they have been flagged by a Facebook user first.
Facebook has teetered back and forth on the “art” angle of nudity, banning some and reversing their decision and allowing other examples.
I know that it’s probably wrong to blame Facebook every time something as ridiculous as a black dot in a cartoon gets content removed. Content is flagged all of the time and people make mistakes. But lightening up, just a little bit, probably wouldn’t make things worse.