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.

Filed Under: art, automation, censorship, neptune, nudity, social media
Companies: facebook


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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 5 Jan 2017 @ 4:26am

    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.

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