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5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Naked Truth on Facebook’s Nudity Policy

Once again the world is embroiled in an international incident over nudity on Facebook. It’s a cinch when you have nearly 2 billion users worldwide that you are going to run into some cultural clashes. Often, when it comes to Facebook, this centers around the social site’s decency policies — i.e., what, exactly, constitutes nudity and what does not.

In the past users have attacked Facebook for blocking breastfeeding photos or topless photos of women, while allowing photos of topless men. Entire social media campaigns have been waged in the hopes of winning over Facebook to a sort of skin-based equality.

Now a French art teacher is considering taking Facebook to court because his account was suspended after he posted an image of a classical painting featuring a female nude. Now, it stands to reason that art is art, but these things are not so cleanly defined in the digital age.

Initially, Facebook tried to dodge the inevitable PR fallout by failing to offer a reason the teacher’s account was suspended. However, the suspension dropped right after the picture was posted. No real mystery there.

Facebook has repeatedly argued in similar cases that its nudity policy is clear: no photos of exposed genitals or fully exposed buttocks or breast images including nipples. However, Facebook did loosen its rules, allowing photos of breastfeeding moms or those displaying post-mastectomy scarring. The given reason for this is clear: “Facebook restricts the display of nudity because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content — particularly because of their cultural background or age.”

This far from the first time Facebook faced backlash over its nudity policy. Back in 2009 more than 11,000 women replaced their profile pics with nursing photos, directly challenging the then current ban on any female nipples en masse. That created a landslide of similar breastfeeding protests until the company officially changed its policy to allow breastfeeding pictures.

At roughly the same time, a similar protest was staged regarding mastectomy photos. More than 20,000 people signed an online petition asking Facebook to edit its policy. Facebook agreed, for the most part.

The bottom line, Facebook is a social entity, and it depends on its users for both popularity and profit. Longstanding battles of this sort are not in the best interest of the network, so it appears amiable to reasonable edits to an admittedly strict policy.

How will this shake out now that a painted image rather than a real life image is at the center of the debate? Depends on how many art champions there are out there. Should be interesting to watch.

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5W Public Relations

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of New York City based Public Relations Agency, 5WPR.

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