In the wake of Philando Castile's death at the hands of a police last week, Facebook came under fire for seemingly deleting the footage that brought the event– in graphic detail– to the attention of millions. After accusations of censorship, Facebook quickly assured its users the deletions were a product of a technical glitch. This week, to put the debate to rest, they then went into detail about their policy on violent content. The policy can be read in full here, but essentially it states that Facebook will only delete violent content if the post glorifies the violence, not simply because the post is graphic or disturbing.
Facebook's delineated policy on violent content is reasonable and clear. However, their terms of service on other forms of controversial content remains at best opaque and at worst ill defined and thus badly enforced. As NCAC has flagged in the past this is particularly the case with content involving nudity. This was again illustrated late last week when Facebook ordered a Hungarian- born, Spokane Washington-based artist named Ildikó Kalapács to remove her abstract nude paintings from her page.
When it comes to content containing nudity, Facebook's Community Standards state that although they remove photographs and videos of actually nude people they "allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures." Ms. Kalapács abstract work falls into the latter category. "My art is very abstract, it isn’t defined by one meaning," Ms. Kalapács has said. "I would never sexualize the human body or objectify it. All art is open for interpretation." The takedown notification Ms. Kalapács received from Facebook's management was mysterious, without justification the notice simply requested that she take down the images and that she check a box to show she understood Facebook's general community guidelines.
Facebook's response to Ms Kalapács could may well have been a mistake, an oversight of their own terms of service. Indeed, the Community Standards section on nudity does stress that their policy can be "more blunt than we would like," leading to the removal of content that should be acceptable.
This incident, however, does raise the question of the social media site's judgement on nudity that is deemed artistically acceptable and what is not. For example, last weekend in the City of Hull, England, 3,000 people took part in a public art installation by stripping off and painting themselves blue. One of the participants, Elly Mortimer, uploaded several of the images from the event to Facebook only to discover that, not only had the photos been taken down, but she has beeen temporarily banned from accessing the site.
Because Ms. Mortimer's photographs likely depicted real life nudity, she arguably did infringe Facebook's Community guidelines. However, given the fact that the photos were of a public art installation Facebook's line between and acceptable painted nude and an unacceptable nude painted person seems ham fisted to say the least.
Headlines featuring the words Facebook and censorship are a near constant featue of the news cycle. Whether it's the alleged suppression of conservative news sources and voices or calls for the site to clamp down on 'hate speech,' Facebook's mysterious approach to shared content leaves a lot to be desired.
For Facebook to avoid suspicion around the site's seeming restrictions on free expression, it is clear– like it did with violent content– more transparency is needed for users in how the site determines the acceptabilty of all types of content deemed delicate.