Meta Finally Set to Remove Nipple Censorship

photo of banned artwork

The Oversight Board of Meta has apparently requested that Facebook and Instagram loosen up their nudity policy by letting displays of nipples.

The nudity censorship policies of Meta properties Facebook and Instagram sometimes veer into the absurd. On the one hand, their general tone sometimes almost harks back to Victorian levels of prudishness (a very common characteristic of many major digital platforms).

On the other hand, users often get away with doing such a bare minimum to comply with them, that the prohibitions might as well not be present in many contexts.

Then of course there are the ridiculous numbers of false flagging incidents, in which pieces of historical art, photography and even photos of sculptures have gotten ban-hammered for showing aspects of human nudity.

Finally, there’s the discriminatory aspect of these policies: namely that if an image is of a visibly male figure, they don’t apply, but if it’s of a female nipple or possibly a transgender body, they definitely do.

photos on nipples

Selection of shots from Genderless Nipples IG campaign against discriminatory nudity policies

Considering Meta’s PR stances on fighting discrimination, such blatant disregard for removing an obvious manifestation of it is laughably grotesque.

Fortunately, all of this nonsense might finally be falling away for users of the social media pages thanks to the new recommendations by Meta’s Oversight Board.

The board recently released a statement in which it overturns a recent decision by Instagram to ban two different photos that were posted by a nonbinary and transgender couple in the U.S.

In these removed posts, which were placed by the couple in 2021 and 2022, breasts were visible along with a link to a fundraising page for chest reconstruction surgery.

This obvious effort to raise awareness of gender reassignment needs in certain people was nonetheless labeled as a violation of Instagram’s Sexual Solicitation Standard. Why? Because it contained female breasts

This single example among many by people fighting back against discriminatory nudity policies underscores the absurdity of these policies in general, and in complex contexts. Particularly where fluid identifications of gender and their needs don’t neatly fit into pigeonholes of male nipple = Okay, or female nipple = Bad.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Free The Nipple (@freethenipple)

 

In many cases, outright bans that a user can actually be aware of don’t even happen. Instead, these social media sites are suspected of shadow-banning accounts that display “provocative” semi-nude and nude content.

Shadow-banning, in which a post, page, or account receives no warning of wrongdoing but quietly gets hidden from view by social site algorithms, can be especially damaging to artists trying to make a living and create a digital presence by showcasing their work.

The damage is particularly pernicious for being invisible, leaving creators to wonder why they’re not gaining any traction.

Such things as these shadow bans and outright bans are caused far too often even by purely artistic or activism-motivated displays of nudity.

This reveals an insensitive, absolutist underlying corporate Puritanism about sexual morality that’s extremely retrograde and discriminatory.

 To an extent, it’s understandable that Facebook and Instagram want to fight overtly and commercially sexualized posting, or solicitations of prostitution. After all, both platforms are used by minors and for family-related content.

However, their policies as they stand don’t make these distinctions. Instead, they apply blanket prohibitions to a degree that becomes preposterous.

Having algorithms enforce these bans without more human moderation makes enforcement of these absolutes even more rigid.

Meta’s Oversight Board is now urging that its parent company “define clear, objective and rights-respecting criteria to govern its Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity Community standard,”

How well Meta and its gigantic social media properties adjust themselves to doing that at scale will be interesting to see.

As things have stood so far, Meta’s nudity moderation systems have been more of a nakedly moralizing, discriminatory and unfunny joke. This has happened in too many cases for their flawed reasoning to be acceptable.

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Shotkit Journalist, Writer & Reviewer

Stephan Jukic is a technology and photography journalist and experimental photographer who spends his time living in both Canada and Mexico. He loves cross-cultural street photo exploration and creating fine art photo compositions.

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