Facebook's business model depends on your willingness to share... and share... and keep on sharing. Here's what happens when Facebook decides you're oversharing
Facebook has famously earned the disdain of privacy advocates for encouraging massive oversharing by its more than 900 million users. But there are some photos even Facebook won't let you share — and, of course, the site has gotten blowback for that, too. The latest picture it's censored depicts a topless woman, but not erotically: A British woman, celebrating her cancer-vanquishing mastectomy, posted a shot of her breastless self only to see it promptly removed. Here's that story, and the tales of five other photographs that prudish Facebook deleted — and sometimes restored, after provoking fury:
1. The topless mastectomy shot
Joanne Jackson, 40, posted professional photos of her post-mastectomy chest, revealing the scars where her breast used to be, as a way to show other women with breast cancer that there's "life after a mastectomy." Facebook not only took down her photos May 16 but warned Jackson that her account would be suspended if she engaged in more such "abusive" activity. That's not just dumb, it's offensive, says Linda Sharps in The Stir. Jackson's photos "are hardly X-rated. They show a triumphant, courageously strong woman sharing her scar with the world."
2. A mother's memorial to her dead infant
On Feb. 15, Heather Walker of Tennessee gave birth to a son, Grayson James Walker, and he died eight hours later — as doctors predicted — of a rare and fatal neural birth defect called anencephaly. Heather and her husband had arranged for a photographer to come and take photos of Grayson's short life, and she posted them to Facebook — then reposted them when Facebook took them down, earning a 24-hour suspension. After a public outcry, Facebook admitted it erred and apologized. "I don't even know where to get started with this," says The Stir's Sharpe. I'm glad Facebook owned up to its mistake, but "how could anyone have decided that a photo of a dying baby" ran afoul of their rules? "I'm sure having their son's image banned was just one more heartbreak" the Walkers didn't need.
3. (Most) breastfeeding mothers
For years, Facebook capriciously and punitively removed photos of breastfeeding mothers that had been deemed inappropriate by other users or zealous administrators. Things got a little better after Feb. 6, when a group of lactating mothers protested by holding a high-profile nurse-in at Facebook headquarters: The social network clarified its policy to allow any photo where the child "actively engages in nursing," says Jeff Bercovici at Forbes. Still, "a cynic might say that the policy treats infants as, in effect, human pasties whose function in the photo is to conceal the nipple itself." Ugh — a slip of nursing nipple just isn't scandalous, says Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. And "treating women like petty criminals for posting what are obviously not sexually explicit images is just stupid business."
4. DIY abortion tutorial
In late December 2011, Facebook got blowback for removing a Dutch abortion-rights advocate's pictorial instructions on how to chemically induce a "safe abortion" with a common drug, misoprostol — then faced more anger when it apologized and allowed Dr. Rebecca Gomperts to repost the image. Before it was reinstated, the image "inspired an interesting controversy" on the pro-abortion rights side, said Anna North at Jezebel: "Is this censorship, or an understandable reaction to potentially dangerous advice?" It also, of course, ruffled some feathers on the anti-abortion side, prompting Bryan Kemper at the group Priests for Life to post an image of a dismembered, aborted fetus — which Facebook also removed. It's amazing that "Facebook will allow girls to learn how to do an abortion themselves at home," said Kemper, but "not allow them to see what an abortion looks like."
5. Two men kissing
In April, 2011, Madrid-based Visible Cultura LGTB posted a photo of two fully clothed men kissing, and Facebook removed it, apparently for violating the site's ban on "graphic or sexually suggestive content." Condemnations ensued, and Facebook apologized, saying the photo "was removed in error." But Richard Metzger, who posted the photo, didn't accept the "generic PR speak" apology. "The real problem here is certainly not that Facebook is a homophobic company," he said. "It's that their terrible corporate policy on censorship needs to stop siding with the idiots, the complainers, and the least-enlightened and evolved amongst us."
6. Kylie Minogue's risqué giant teddy bear grip
Minogue was preforming at London's G-A-Y nightclub in August 2010 when somebody handed her a giant stuffed teddy bear. A fan snapped a photo, when Kylie was holding the microphone between the bear's legs; the mic vaguely resembled an erect phallus if you looked at it the right way. Facebook explained that the photo violated its ban on "photos that contain nudity, drug use or violence." How baffling, says Dan Hopper in Best Week Ever. Well, the bear isn't wearing pants, and "that definitely counts as nudity," I guess. But come on, Facebook. "Microphones and teddy bears?" Grow up.
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