Facebook’s updated nudity policy leaves more questions than answers

Facebook has updated its rules for what you can and cannot post.

Mar 1, 2020, 7:54 am*

IRL

EJ Dickson 

EJ Dickson

Although Facebook updated its anti-nudity policy to allow topless photos in certain “tasteful” instances, it seems we still can’t go a week without hearing another story about how a woman is kicked off the platform for breastfeeding her child or posting a mastectomy photo.

In the wake of this extended public outcry surrounding the social network’s seemingly arbitrary content standards, the website has updated its Community Standards, attempting to clarify its anti-nudity policy in a recent blog post. The (quite confusing) gist is this: Boobs are OK, except when they’re not. 

In the updated guidelines, Facebook explained that “people sometimes share content containing nudity for reasons like awareness campaigns or artistic projects” (perhaps a veiled reference to the company’s censorship of the Leonard Nimoy Project, a collection of nudes that circulated on social media following the actor’s death).

The post goes on to describe what type of content is and isn’t allowed on the social network in detail:

We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks. We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring. We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures.

Restrictions on the display of both nudity and sexual activity also apply to digitally created content unless the content is posted for educational, humorous, or satirical purposes. Explicit images of sexual intercourse are prohibited. Descriptions of sexual acts that go into vivid detail may also be removed.

The post also clarified its policies on hate speech and violence, stating “we remove graphic images when they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence.” Hate speech that specifically targets race, religion, or sexual orientation is also prohibited.

To a certain degree, these revamped user guidelines will be helpful to users in determining what they can and can’t post. The problem is that the definition of art versus pornography, or content posted for “educational, humorous, or satirical purposes” versus content posted for titillation purposes, is so subjective that it’s almost impossible to regulate. 

For instance, Facebook recently banned a user who posted Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde, a classical 18th-century painting that happens to depict a vagina. And as sex educator Amber Madison explained in the Atlantic earlier this month, Facebook regularly censors sex-ed advertising campaigns, yanking a post promoting gynecological health for having the word “sexy” in the tagline.

It’s admirable that Facebook is making a concerted effort to address the inconsistencies in its anti-nudity policies. But will it make much of a difference?

Photo via afunkydamsel/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Mar 16, 2015, 12:53 pm