In recent months, Facebook's practice of taking down offending photographs has come under increased scrutiny, centering largely around a clause in the social network's user policy that forbids nudity outright. The latest incident revolves around the ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Body Painting Project’, which features photographs of the painted breasts of 25 post-mastectomy breast cancer survivors.
The photographs featured the women’s breasts painted in images that express their individual personalities and address “femininity, motherhood, pain, fear and courage,” according to photographer Michael Colanero. Because of the unclothed breasts, the images were deemed pornographic and removed from Facebook. The terms governing photographic content are:
"You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence."
Colanero was devastated over the images' removal, and the negative effects being labelled ‘pornographic’ will have on the cancer survivors. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he was quick to note that the figures were inspirational, not obscene and that they were not nude since they were painted. Colanero also expressed his views on the complicated relationship between art, nudity and censorship:
“I think the human figure has been a subject since the first cave drawings - are we still not used to it? I don't think one needs to focus so much on labeling something ‘art’ to have nudity be appropriate. We are all humans and all have similar bodies - let's just get past that and talk about what matters. Focusing on the ‘nudity’ is a distraction from what counts and its only a way to put distance between us all instead of bringing us together.”
Most of the media attention the Body Painting Project is receiving is centered around the censorship controversy and less about the courage and inspiration of the women themselves. Colanero expressed his frustration of the negativity now associated with the project, and how it has distracted from the plights and accomplishments of the survivors.
This incident brings up the delicate balance between censoring and silencing. In the past Facebook took down a photograph of two men kissing, a Swedish nude photography exhibit and images of doll nipples.
Facebook's content has found itself on the other side of the free speech debate in countries with more conservative values. Facebook lobbyist Adam Conner explained: "We are occasionally held in uncomfortable positions because now we're allowing too much, maybe, free speech in countries that haven't experienced it before."
But the issue of decency is less clear-cut in America. Breast cancer survivor and model Jamie Inman commented: “With this success comes a responsibility to approach free speech and advocacy for public health in a more cautious and deliberate manner. I want to know how Facebook plans to live up to their responsibility to protect free speech and ensure that an open and informative dialog can take place on their network.”
Take a look at the body paintings below.