Facebook and the artistic nude
What is the social network’s policy regarding the sharing of works of art depicting nudity?
The “censorship” by Facebook of one of our sponsored posts for the promotion of the exhibition Naked! Treasures of the Basel Museum of Ancient Art led us to wonder about Facebook’s current policy on sharing artistic nudes. The image portrayed the torso of a statue with pixelated genitals and its publication as a sponsored post was rejected because it contained “excessive nudity or portions of skin”.
Online nudity, but only art
The latest update of the Community Standards , which apply internationally, reads that the social network restricts the display of nudity because some people in their community may be sensitive to this type of content. More than two billion people aged 13+, from different countries and cultures with a different approach to nudity, have a Facebook profile. Another reason for the pruderie adopted by the social network is also to avoid the so-called “revenge porn”, i.e. sharing confidential photos or videos without the consent of the subject as a form of revenge or blackmail. The standards, however, allow the publication of photographs of paintings, sculptures or other forms of art depicting nude figures. Sharing works of art with subjects in the nude is therefore allowed (we have often done so on our page), but Facebook may consider removing this type of content following one or more reports of violation, assessing each situation on a case-by-case basis. Thus, it is an algorithm that determines what is art and what is not or, if the disapproved ad is appealed, the decision will be made by a person who has to view hundreds if not thousands of images a day, without any specific training in the subject.
Promoting nudity is forbidden
The situation is different for sponsored paid posts, which are viewed by a wider audience, selected on the basis of the location or the interests indicated by the advertiser. In this case, the social network can prevent an image containing nudity from being used as an advertisement, as in most cases it is assimilated to adult content of a sexual nature. Our post was rejected because, according to the algorithm that analysed it, the image did not comply with the advertising regulations. Following our appeal, where we explained that it was a statue with covered genitalia, and that the purpose of the advertisement was indeed to promote an exhibition on the theme of nudity in art, the promotion was approved.
Praxiteles yea, Rubens nay
VisitFlanders has recently had to deal with these limitations. In July 2018, a Flemish tourist board promotional campaign showing a Baroque nude by Pieter Paul Rubens was rejected and never approved, not even after the appeal. The same happened to a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, Caritas romana, used for the online promotion of the exhibition Artemisia e i pittori del Conte in the Castle and Church of San Giuseppe, Conversano, Bari . Broadly speaking, it seems that sculpture is more tolerated than figurative art.
Reactions to censorship
VisitFlanders CEO Peter De Wilde sent an open letter to Facebook warning that the decision to block the distribution of this type of content made life more difficult for many museums and cultural institutions . However, VisitFlanders has taken advantage of the situation by making an amusing video at the Rubens museum house, in which visitors who claim to have a social network account are dragged away by fake police officers who prevent them from gazing at the nude paintings.
Clearly, the subject carries broad implications. From the judgement on art pronounced by artificial intelligence to the utopia of contents potentially suitable for a global platform that ignores the specificities of each culture, the subject of artistic nudity, or art tout court, on digital social networks does deserve some serious thought.