Facebook is under fire for censorship again, this time for blocking an image of a mammogram

Is this really nudity?
Is this really nudity?
Image: Reuters/Eric Gaillard
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Facebook just can’t help itself.

Less than a month after facing backlash over its censorship of the Vietnam War’s iconic “Napalm Girl” image, the social media giant is now under fire for removing an article published by Les Décodeurs, a data-focused website affiliated with French newspaper Le Monde. The story, about the French government’s efforts to overhaul mammogram-screening in the country, included a lead image of an exposed female breast. The nipple in the photograph apparently violated Facebook’s nudity policy.

“Facebook just censored this mammography photo. Thanks Facebook for fighting everyday against the nipple,” a Le Monde journalist tweeted on Oct. 11.

After removing the image on Oct. 11, Facebook restored it later that day and apologized. 

A member of Facebook’s review team mistakenly removed the post, which did not in fact violate the company’s standards. “The post was removed in error and restored as soon as we were able to investigate,” a Facebook spokesperson told Quartz. “Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong. We’re very sorry about this mistake.”

But this is hardly the company’s first error in judgment. In addition to the Vietnam photo, Facebook has in the past been scrutinized for censorship of breastfeeding mothers and plus-sized women. An Argentinian breast cancer awareness campaign even circumvented Facebook’s screening by using photos of hairy man boobs instead. After its initial post was taken down, Les Décodeurs also reposted its article with a photo of a bare-chested man in front of the French flag.

“We [restrict] some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring,” Facebook’s community guidelines read.

Banning pornography is reasonable, but specifically banning female nipples is questionable, says Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “Imposing a blanket ban on nudity, even if a handful of exceptions are carved out, furthers the idea that women’s bodies are inherently sexual,” York told the Verge.

The company acknowledges that their policies can be “more blunt than [they] would like, and restrict content shared for legitimate purposes.” Facebook has said in the past that it’s working on better evaluation and enforcement techniques for questionable content. It might want to hurry: In the past few months alone, Facebook has gotten flak for skewing political storiesbanning a Black Lives Matter activists, and even spreading false news.

An earlier version of this article attributed Jillian York’s comments to the Guardian instead of the Verge. This story has also been updated to include a comment from Facebook.