Art

Leaked Document Lays Out Facebook’s Policy on Sex and Nudity in Art


A slide from the Facebook policy document obtained by the Guardian (image via theguardian.com)

Facebook users may post artistic images of nudity and sexuality, so long as the work was created in a manual medium. That’s the gist of a policy document published in the Guardian yesterday, one of more than 100 “internal training manuals, spreadsheets and flowcharts” that the newspaper obtained from the social media giant.

The Facebook Files, as the trove is called, cover a range of controversial subjects, from a manual on “credible threats of violence” to rules regarding images of animal cruelty. The art-related slide show released by the Guardian is a “policy update” on what Facebook calls “digital nudity/real world art.” This opposition distinguishes between, on the one hand, painting, sculpture, and drawing, and, on the other, “digitally created” art. In the first category, which the document refers to as “handmade art,” images showing nudity as well as sexual activity are allowed. In the second category, Facebook’s policy had previously been to ban images of both kinds; the update changes that to allow digital art images of nudity, but maintains the existing ban on digital art images of sexual activity.

A slide from the Facebook policy document obtained by the Guardian (image via theguardian.com)

The original rule was made “so that we could remove a lot of very sexual digital nudity, but it also covers an increasing amount of non-sexual digitally made art,” a slide explains. “The current line is also difficult to enforce because it is hard to differentiate between handmade art and digitally made depictions.” The following slides go on to show examples of acceptable content, including a host of images where “paper is clearly present” and pictures that display “real world object[s],” often an ancient sculpture or relief. Child nudity is OK if it’s depicted within “real world art,” and digital nudity is allowed if “only contours [are] visible: penis, vagina, female nipple, butt are not sufficiently detailed.” (Numerous critics have pointed out the double standard of Facebook making female nipples a potential marker of inappropriate nudity, but not male nipples.)

The Guardian’s overview article about the Facebook Files says they “illustrate difficulties faced by executives scrabbling to react to new challenges … and the challenges for moderators, who say they are overwhelmed by the volume of work, which means they often have ‘just 10 seconds’ to make a decision.” Indeed, the nonsensical sense of Facebook content moderation takes shape in a set of art guidelines that consider painting, but not photography or video, “real world art” and would, in theory, find Courbet’s “The Origin of the World” acceptable but not a digital print of a woman’s butt. (In practice, a post about the infamous Courbet painting was censored by the site in 2011.)

What’s more, Facebook has often failed to adhere to its own standards, as when it censored Hyperallergic for posting an image of a 19th-century Japanese print of a woman being pleasured by an octopus. The arbitrariness of the policy comes through especially in the last leaked slide, which, without any explanation, features two examples of images that would be removed from Facebook: works of “handmade art” (one a painting, the other a sculpture) depicting the rape of the Sabine women. Presumably these would be unacceptable because they show sexual violence — yet such a policy doesn’t exactly make sense when you consider that “videos of violent deaths of humans without celebration” are considered OK.

Ultimately, to have a content policy that makes sense, Facebook would need moderators who are well-versed in art and could determine the creative merits of a given image. Even then, the system would be highly subjective and imperfect, but acknowledging the absurdity of dividing digital from “real world” art would be a useful first step.

The post Leaked Document Lays Out Facebook’s Policy on Sex and Nudity in Art appeared first on Hyperallergic.



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