Facebook nudity policy criticised over picture of Aboriginal women

The Facebook logo displayed on a screen in white text on a blue background

Facebook is once again embroiled in a scandal over the depiction of women's breasts on the social network, this time in Australia.

The company has allegedly suspended the accounts of a number of users who shared an article about Aboriginal feminism, which was illustrated with a photo of two indigenous Australian women from the Northern Territory wearing traditional body paint and with bare chests.

The article, which is a transcript of a speech given by feminist and writer Celeste Liddle, was published on New Matilda and discusses the rights of Aboriginal people in Australia and the discrimination they face.

Those who reposted the article to Facebook, however, found their accounts were suspended, according to Australian news outlet ABC, as did Liddle.

"They suspended [my account] for reasons of nudity, so that's the reason that they've given - nudity and sexually explicit nature," Liddle told ABC.

"So they've deemed this picture of Aboriginal women painted up culturally to be nudity and sexually explicit, which it obviously isn't, it's women practicing several millennia worth of culture," she added.

Liddle, who in her speech highlighted a similar instance in the past when she had her account suspended by Facebook for posting a video of dancing Aboriginal women who also had bare chests, set up a petition to get Facebook to review its policies and make them more culturally inclusive.

She told ABC that while the petition was popular, people sharing it on Facebook were also facing account suspensions or arbitrary post removals because it uses the same photo as the one seen on New Matilda.

IT Pro contacted Facebook to ask why the image in the New Matilda article led to account suspension on the grounds of sexually explicit images and whether it had any intention of relaxing the rules.

In a written statement, a spokesperson said: "We are aware that people sometimes share content containing nudity for reasons like awareness campaigns, artistic projects or cultural investigations.

"The reason we restrict the display of nudity is because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content - particularly because of cultural background or age.

"In order to treat people fairly and respond to reports quickly, it is essential that we have policies in place that our global teams can apply uniformly and easily when reviewing content."

The spokesperson added: "We encourage people to share Celeste Liddle's speech on Facebook by simply removing the image before posting it."

Facebook's stumbling blocks

This latest case brings together two of Facebook's greatest stumbling blocks when it comes to diversity: breasts and indigenous rights.

The social network has a long and storied past of suspending the accounts of women breastfeeding. In a case reminiscent of Liddle's, photographer Christopher Rimmer had a picture he had captured of a breastfeeding Himba woman, from northern Namibia, taken down in 2010 as it was deemed unsuitable for children.

Rimmer told the Sydney Morning Herald: "I find it absolutely absurd that anybody would consider those pictures offensive in any way. To suggest they are pornographic or gratuitous is quite unbelievable. I don't think anyone in their right mind would suggest it."

Facebook has also clashed repeatedly with breast cancer-awareness campaigners too, as alluded to in the statement to ABC. While the company says it is within its guidelines for women to post pictures of post-mastectomy scars, photos of breasts that are undergoing or have undergone reconstructive surgery sometimes still find their images being removed or their accounts suspended due to Facebook's nudity and obscenity rules. Similarly, ad campaigns and individuals posting pictures hoping to raise awareness of symptoms of breast cancer have fallen foul of the social network's policies.

Separately, Facebook has also been criticised for repeatedly rejecting Native Americans' names as fake, suspending users' accounts and demanding they change them.

Conversely, the organisation has repeatedly refused to take down videos and images of decapitations and people being burnt alive, providing they are used to condemn, not glorify, the acts portrayed.

IT Pro also asked how these two stances are compatible, but Facebook declined to comment.

Jane McCallion
Managing Editor

Jane McCallion is ITPro's Managing Editor, specializing in data centers and enterprise IT infrastructure. Before becoming Managing Editor, she held the role of Deputy Editor and, prior to that, Features Editor, managing a pool of freelance and internal writers, while continuing to specialize in enterprise IT infrastructure, and business strategy.

Prior to joining ITPro, Jane was a freelance business journalist writing as both Jane McCallion and Jane Bordenave for titles such as European CEO, World Finance, and Business Excellence Magazine.