Facebook Censors Art Historian's Photo Of Neptune's Statue-Penis

from the pics-or-gtfo dept

It’s probably time for Facebook to give up trying to be the morality police, because it isn’t working. While nobody expects the social media giant to be perfect at policing its site for images and posts deemed “offensive”, it’s shown itself time and time again to be utterly incapable of getting this right at even the most basic level. After all, when the censors are removing iconic historical photos, tirades against prejudice, forms of pure parody, and images of a nude bronze statue in the name of some kind of corporate puritanism, it should be clear that something is amiss.

Yet the armies of the absurd march on, it seems. Facebook managed to kick off the new year by demanding that an Italian art historian remove an image of a penis from her Facebook page. Not just any penis, mind you. It was a picture of a godly penis. Specifically, this godly penis.

That, should you not be an Italian art historian yourself, is a picture of a statue of the god Neptune. In the statue, which adorns the public streets of Bologna, Neptune is depicted with his heavenly member hanging out, because gods have no time for clothes, of course. Yet this carved piece of art somehow triggered a Facebook notice to the photographer, Elisa Barbari.

According to the Telegraph, Barbari got the following notification from Facebook. “The use of the image was not approved because it violates Facebook’s guide lines on advertising. It presents an image with content that is explicitly sexual and which shows to an excessive degree the body, concentrating unnecessarily on body parts. The use of images or video of nude bodies or plunging necklines is not allowed, even if the use is for artistic or educational reasons.”

Even were I to be on board with a Facebook policy banning nudity and, sigh, “plunging necklines” even in the interest of education or art — which I most certainly am not on board with — the claim that the image is explicitly sexual and focused on “body parts” is laughably insane. There’s nothing sexual about the depiction of Neptune at all, unless we are to believe that all nudity is sexual, which simply isn’t true. Also, the depiction focuses not on one body part, but on the entire statue. Nothing about this makes sense.

And that’s likely because Facebook is relying on some kind of algorithm to automatically generate these notices. Confusingly, the site’s own community standards page makes an exception for art, despite the notice Barbari received claiming otherwise.

Strangely, an exception is made for art. “We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures.”

Except when it doesn’t, that is. Look, again, nobody is expecting Facebook to be perfect at this. But the site has a responsibility, if it is going to play censor at all, to at least be good enough at it not to censor statues of art in the name of prohibiting too much skin.

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Companies: facebook

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Comments on “Facebook Censors Art Historian's Photo Of Neptune's Statue-Penis”

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Mononymous Tim (profile) says:


I’m thinking it’s more likely someone just looking for something to be upset about, and if they succeed, they’ve somehow in their tiny mind made their mark on the world.

Probably the same people that comment “First!” or “NOTICE ME!!!!!” desperate for validation that they’re relevant, at least on YouTube.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Keep in mind, this isn’t an article covering a previous stupid action by FB, but a new example. So long as FB keeps making boneheaded decisions like this pointing it out will continue to be relevant.

Or put another way: When FB stops being ridiculous on this subject, then TD will no longer have a reason to cover the topic.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

This isn’t novel at all, it’s just another example if it.

And if you ever want it to stop, and/or prevent other companies from doing the same, it helps to call them out when they do it, even if they do so regularly.

If it’s a problem and/or an example of a stupid policy then it doesn’t stop being those things if you don’t mention it when it comes up, but it might if people keep pointing it out and enough of a momentum builds that it’s more worth to the company to change it versus just sitting back and doing nothing.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A world, perhaps not. But, if you read about lots of wars and murders in places you visit, you can also choose not to visit those places. Just as you can choose not to read and comment on articles about Facebook’s censorship if you want.

“Being effected by Facebook censorship requires a conscious effort to use their services.”

…and if you want to avoid being affected by their censorship, it requires being informed of that censorship and its nature. Which might require some sites to be reporting on that, rather than just assuming everyone just knows about it through the ether, perhaps?

Ninja (profile) says:

They don’t just censor the public posts. They actively scan their messenger as well for naughty bits. We have news that they were meddling with pirate-y links or things they don’t like but not satisfied with it they are filtering nude images. A friend of mine was having a sexy chat with his girl and both tried sending naughty pics to each other. Their accounts were suspended with a message about site policies.

I’ve ditched Facebook messenger long ago and I’m in the process of getting rid of Facebook itself altogether. Mr Zuckeberg can go be the moral zealot of himself.

Richard (profile) says:

Not Automatic

And that’s likely because Facebook is relying on some kind of algorithm to automatically generate these notices.

No it isn’t automatic – it’s done by low paid workers in the 3rd world where ideas about "art" and "decency" are somewhat different from ours.

or many other examples of this story – for those who never believe the Telegraph.

Moderators in Islamic countries in particular are likely to censor all kinds of things that we would accept without a blink.

Remeber what happened when the Iranian leader visited the Vatican..


When the

art guerrilla (profile) says:

as a sidebar, was watvhing some youtube clips on funny/weird tee shirt text, and it had a LOT of asians who sported ALL kinds of nasty stuff beyond mere ‘fucks’ and ‘shits’, stuff like a list of english derogatory slang for various ethnic/’racial’ groups (spic, kike, nigger, etc), and a number of weird malapropisms which made no sense…
wonder how many who wore those, understood what the text meant… a LOT were on very young kids, too…
i presume these are cheap/free tee shirts and that they have no idea what the text means…
wonder how many english speakers are wearing tee shirts with chinese/etc words on them which are awful statements they dont have a clue about…

Sean Gleeson says:

Where is the actual banned photo?

Also, the depiction focuses not on one body part, but on the entire statue.

Do we know this? None of the stories about this, that I have seen, include the actual image that Facebook banned. (The one illustrating your article is a stock photo.) I guess what I’m asking is, how do we know the offending image was not, like, a close-up of Neptune’s phallus? Does anyone know where we can see the photo?

Sean Gleeson says:

Re: Ah, I have seen it now.

The actual banned photo can be seen at http://mashable.com/2017/01/03/facebook-neptune-statue-photo-bologna/

It is even less explicit than the stock photo on this post! It doesn’t even include Neptune’s pubic area at all, as he is turned away from the camera.

Also, it is really the formerly banned photo, since Facebook apologized and reversed their ban.

Steve Zissou (user link) says:

They’re different uses of the word… from Facebook’s perspective their policies aren’t in conflict.

Facebook’s notification wording is trying to prevent people from claiming that their recent photographs featuring nudity are artistic in nature…

While simultaneously Facebook’s community standards wording implies that it won’t censor “real art”… AKA historical art.

In other words new art isn’t made, only the old is art.

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