New year, same old censorship issues for Facebook

Just a couple of days into the new year, Facebook has already apologized for censorship — it blocked a photo of a nude statue of Neptune, the sea god.

It was a mistake for the social network to tell an Italian art historian that the image of the statue was “explicitly sexual” and “excessively shows the body or unnecessarily concentrates on body parts,” the company said in a statement to Mashable.

The 16th-century statue of Neptune is photographed by the many tourists who visit Piazza del Nettuno, a square in Italian city of Bologna.

“How can a work of art, our Neptune, be the subject of censorship?” Elisa Barbari said in a Facebook post on Jan. 1. Since Facebook’s initial blocking of the image, she has updated her cover photo to read “Yes to Neptune, no to censorship” in Italian.

The mistake was curious because Facebook’s community standards include the following: “We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures.”

This latest censorship controversy follows some high-profile ones for Facebook in 2016, including its removal of the iconic Vietnam War-era photo of a naked young girl running from a napalm attack. The social network later reversed its decision after the news made international headlines.

Also last year, Facebook blocked images of breasts from a Swedish ad campaign about breast cancer awareness. It also reportedly blocked an image of Copenhagen’s famous sculpture of The Little Mermaid. And a court ruled last year that a French teacher could sue Facebook for suspending his account after he posted a photo of L’Origine du Monde, a painting that shows a woman’s vagina.

In the fall, the social network said it would ease up on censoring content, especially when it involves newsworthy items. Not too long after that, advocacy groups asked Facebook to be more transparent about its censorship policies, expressing concern about how removal of certain content from the social network might affect users’ civil and human rights.


Photo: The sea god Neptune presides over his fountain at the Piazza Nettuno in Bologna, Italy. (Bay Area News Group archives). 


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