Meta’s censorship rules for human breasts are confusing and don’t respect human rights standards, the panel says. Men are less affected.
Meta Platform’s Oversight Board has once again criticized Facebook’s censorship decisions regarding human nudity. This independent Complaints Council reviews selected disputes between the group and its users. The very first cases decided by the Oversight Board in 2021 involved bare breasts – this time breasts with covered nipples are grounds for reprimand.
A couple of two non-binary people posted a breast photo each on Instagram in 2021 and 2022 with the nipples covered. The couple asked for donations for an operation to partially remove the breasts of one of the two people. These images have been reviewed multiple times, including in at least one case by a paid human being. Finally, the pictures were taken with reference to the ban on initiating sex work, although it was not about sex work at all. An objection by the two concerned did not help at first, only after the Oversight Board had accepted the case did Meta reverse the censorship decision.
Complaints go beyond the individual cases
Now the Oversight Board has determined that the suspension was not in line with Meta’s rules, values , and responsibility for upholding human rights (Ref. 2022-009-IG-UA and 2022-010-IG-UA). However, the criticism of the supervisory body goes much further: the internal regulations for enforcing the ban on initiating sex work goes much further than the reasons given by Meta for the ban and the publicly available guidelines. This confuses users and censors, leading to inappropriate deletions.
Worse still, the regulations were based on an inherited notion of gender and sexual identity. Male nipples are generally permissible, female nipples only when it comes to medical issues such as childbirth, breast cancer or breast surgery, or nudity as an expression of protest – however, these exceptions are often worded intricately; for example, censors would have to look at how much surgical scars are visible to decide whether or not one of the exceptions applies.
Meta doesn’t even bother with the breasts of transgender, intersex, or non-binary people. Censors would have to make assumptions about the gender and sexual identity of users they personally do not know at lightning speed, which cannot be scaled. Meta’s automatic filters repeatedly objected to the images, even though they conformed to the rules. As a result, current regulations on adult nudity have created greater barriers to free speech for female, transgender, and non-binary individuals.
Guidelines for improvement
As a result, the Oversight Board Meta is recommending major changes to the Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity Policy. It calls for clear criteria that treat all users equally and comply with human rights standards. This requires a comprehensive assessment of the effects. In the washing up, the group should also check whether its rules adequately protect people from publishing their intimate photos without their consent.
As far as the ban on initiating sex work is concerned, Meta should inform its users in more detail. In addition, it should revise the internal guidelines for the censors so that they match the published regulations. The supervisory body hopes that this will make false censorship less common.