Censorship continues on online platforms

Online media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, continue to come under fire for taking down content, including artistic works, seemingly arbitrarily or unevenly, for violations of their standards. In some cases, such platforms go as far as blocking people’s accounts for the content they post.

Facebook in particular was at the centre of the online censorship debate in 2016 when it temporarily banned a famous news photo showing the impact of the Vietnam War because it featured a nude child.

This incident, along with several others, has led the company to revise its guidelines to allow content that “people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest – even if they might otherwise violate our standards”, reported Tech Crunch on 21 October 2016.

Below are some cases where online media platforms censored artistic works in 2016.

Facebook censors photo of Neptune fountain statue due to nudity

In January 2017, Facebook banned the use of images of a bronze statue of Neptune from a square in Bologna, Italy, put up by Italian writer Elisa Barbari, who was attempting to use the image to promote her page where she frequently posts about the history of the city.

Barbari received a notice that “the use of images of video of nude bodies or plunging necklines is not allowed, even if the use is for artistic or educational reasons”.

The writer explained to CNN that “the statue is shown from behind, not even as a close up; it’s in the distance”. After almost a week, Facebook contacted Barbari that she could use the photo for future posts.

Photo: Neptune fountain in Bologna/Wikicommons


» CNN – 5 January 2017
Facebook banned Neptune statue photo for being ‘explicitly sexual’

» The Telegraph – 2 January 2017
Facebook ‘censors’ nude statue of sea god Neptune, the well-known Renaissance symbol of northern Italian city

Swedish singer’s video temporarily banned from YouTube

Swedish singer Tove Lo said she was “shocked” when YouTube, in November 2016, briefly banned her half-hour long short film ‘Fairy Dust’ for containing sexual content. Though the video contains graphic scenes, there is no nudity.

“I don’t think it is anything new for a girl to be singing about sex so I was shocked they were shocked,” the singer said. ”Didn’t Madonna do this 20 years ago?”

Photo: Tove Lo/Wikicommons


» Daily Mail – 22 November 2016
‘Didn’t Madonna do this 20 years ago?’ Swedish singer Tove Lo reveals she was ‘shocked’ when her sexually-charged short film was briefly banned by YouTube

» Teen Vogue – 22 November 2016
Tove Lo’s ‘Fairy Dust’ video temporarily banned by YouTube

Art promoter’s Facebook account blocked for sharing nude Baroque painting

In October 2016, Milan-based art promoter Hamilton Moura Filho had his Facebook account blocked for several hours after he posted an image of a Caravaggio painting, ‘Love Conquers All’, featuring a nude Cupid. The image was also removed.

Filho described the incident as “an outrage against history and culture” and wanted to pursue legal action, which wasn’t necessary as Facebook apologised for the takedown and block.

Photo: Caravaggio’s ‘Love Conquers All’/Wikicommons


» BBC – 1 November 2016
Facebook apologises for censoring Caravaggio nude 

» The Local – 1 November 2016
Facebook backtracks after censoring nude Caravaggio painting

» La Repubblica – 31 October 2016
Facebook rejects Caravaggio’s Cupid

Reporter’s Facebook account blocked for sharing article with semi-nude photo

In October 2016, Adriana Malvido, a reporter for Mexico’s Milenio.com, had her Facebook blocked six days after she shared an El Pais article about Mexico’s first sexual revolution, which had an artistic photograph of a semi-nude Mexican artist and model from the early to mid-1900s.

Malvido said after she received the short notice of the image removal and account blocking, she had to “delete all photos that contain nudes” to be able to re-activate her account. The image shared was of Carmen Mondragon (also known as Nahui Olin).


» Milenio.com – 20 October 2016
Facebook censors Nahui Olin

Facebook bans drawing of hand

In August 2016, Facebook temporarily banned a drawing by 16th century Swiss/German artist Hans Holbein of the hand of Erasmus. The online company reversed its ban after art students began posting drawings of other artists’ hands, calling the incident “human error”.


» Inside Sources – 4 January 2017
Facebook censors banned art, satire, culture, and more in 2016

» The Guardian – 31 August 2016
Facebook banned Holbein’s hand – but it isn’t even art’s sauciest

Further reading

» Think Progress – 22 October 2016
Facebook changes nudity policy to allow for ‘newsworthy’ photos

» Tech Crunch – 21 October 2016
Facebook plans to reduce censorship, show more offensive but newsworthy content

More from Freemuse

» 18 March 2016: Facebook: Artist banned for nude pencil drawing of Donald Trump

» 12 March 2015: France: Court sets precedent in Facebook vagina artwork censorship battle

» 20 November 2013: Denmark: Hippie book author accuses Facebook of hypcorisy

» 7 March 2013: France: Art museum censored by Facebook for nude photograph

» 14 February 2013: Facebook: “Worse than the censorship in the middle of the Dark Ages”

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