Facebook and Instagram told to lift ban on bare breasts

Only men are allowed to show their nipples in photos on Facebook and Instagram platforms – women are not. However, Meta’s advisory board now says that the policy impedes the right to expression for women, trans, and nonbinary people.

In a decision dated 17 January, the oversight board recommended that Meta – a parent company of both Facebook and Instagram – change its adult nudity and sexual activity community standard “so that it is governed by clear criteria that respect international human rights standards”.

The ruling comes after Instagram censored a couple of posts from an account run by an American couple who are transgender and non-binary. In the posts, they were posing topless, but with their nipples covered, and captions were describing trans healthcare and asking for money for surgery.

Despite that, Meta’s artificial intelligence system reviewed and removed the posts, which were flagged by users. But the company restored the posts upon appeal, and the advisory board has since recommended overhauling the policy.

“This policy is based on a binary view of gender and a distinction between male and female bodies. Such an approach makes it unclear how the rules apply to intersex, non-binary, and transgender people, and requires reviewers to make rapid and subjective assessments of sex and gender, which is not practical when moderating content at scale,” the board said.

In essence, this means that the advisory board thinks the policy doesn’t make sense or work in practice.

The so-called “Free the Nipple” activists who have been holding protests against Meta’s ban on breasts, have also been saying the same thing for ages now – the first “nurse-in” by breastfeeding mothers at the Facebook headquarters took place in 2008.

Meta “welcomes the board’s decision in this case”, a representative said in a statement that noted that the couple’s photos had been reinstated “prior to the decision”.

But questions remain: for instance, will Meta’s automated content-moderation system be able to enforce a new policy on nipples? Besides, this is the territory of the infamous culture wars, and, surely, some users will continue flagging certain content just because they don’t like it, thus weaponizing content moderation.

The Meta oversight board is independent and composed of academics, politicians, and journalists who advise the company on its content-moderation policies.

Last year, a coalition of civil society organizations told Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg to stop restricting access to information on reproductive healthcare and rights across the company’s social media platforms.

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