Incident 284: Facebook’s Removal of Content Containing Artworks and Their Advertisements That Featured Nudity via Automated and Human-Reviewed Moderation Denounced as Censorship

Description: Facebook’s removal of posts featuring renowned artworks by many historical artists and their promotional content due to nudity via both automated and human-moderated means were condemned by critics, such as museums and tourism boards, as cultural censorship and prevention of artwork promotion.
Alleged: Facebook developed and deployed an AI system, which harmed museums on Facebook , Facebook users interested in arts and Facebook users.

Suggested citation format

Lam, Khoa. (2018-05-01) Incident Number 284. in Lam, K. (ed.) Artificial Intelligence Incident Database. Responsible AI Collaborative.

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The Paris appeal court has upheld a ruling that Facebook can be sued under French - not Californian - law.

A French teacher won in the Paris high court last year, arguing that Facebook should not have suspended his account because of an erotic image on his page.

Facebook appealed against that ruling - but the appeal court has now upheld the criticism of Facebook's user terms.

US-based Facebook says users can only sue in California. It removed a close-up of a nude woman, painted by Courbet.

The teacher, Frederic Durand-Baissas, argued that he had a right to post a link on Facebook with the image of the famous Gustave Courbet painting. The original 19th-Century work hangs in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

The teacher accused Facebook of censorship and said the social network should reinstate his account and pay him €20,000 (£15,521; $22,567) in damages. He sued the company in 2011.

It is seen as a test case, potentially paving the way for other lawsuits against Facebook outside US jurisdiction.

Facebook users have to agree to the tech giant's terms of service, which state that its jurisdiction is California. About 22 million French people are on Facebook.

The Paris high court decided that the company's argument was "abusive" and violated French consumer law, by making it difficult for people in France to sue.

The Facebook community standards say "we restrict 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".

Paris court rules against Facebook in French nudity case

Facebook has blocked an Australian auction house from advertising an acclaimed artist's painting depicting nude figures.

Charles Blackman's oil work Women Lovers features two nude women resting on a bed beside a cat.

Art broker Mossgreen tried to promote it on Facebook, but the social media network rejected it for "advertising adult products or services".

Mossgreen chief executive Paul Summer said the decision was "ridiculous".

"This is a very beautiful image that is not overtly sexual in any shape or form," he told the BBC.

"It's like going back to the 1950s. It's ridiculous to censor this sort of thing."

Facebook said its decision was final, although Mossgreen has since reposted images of the work.

"Such ads lead to negative user sentiment and we have zero tolerance towards such advertisements," Facebook said in a message.

Last month, a French teacher took Facebook to court after it suspended his account for posting an image of a nude woman painted by 19th Century artist Gustave Courbet.

Mr Summer said Women Lovers was expected to sell for more than A$45,000 (£28,000; $34,000) at auction next week.

"Nobody said a single thing until Facebook suddenly decided it was going to offend somebody," he said.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Blackman with daughter Christabel in 2005

"I don't know who they're protecting because I have two teenage daughters myself and if I said to them that this painting has been banned I think they would have laughed at me."

Now aged 88, Blackman has been described as "the last man standing" from one of the great eras in Australian art. His contemporaries included modernist painters Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker.

Last year, Blackman's painting The Game of Chess was sold by Sotheby's Australia for A$1.78m.

"Charles Blackman is the most well-regarded and respected living Australian artist," Mr Summer said.

Facebook blocks nude painting by acclaimed artist

Social media giant Facebook may be rethinking on its content policies but is not at the fire of protests from Flemish tourist board. The social media network removed a number of posts featuring paintings by renowned Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens as they showcased nudity. Facebook took down a number of promotional ads for the Belgian region as they featured paintings of voluptuous women and cherubs. One of the posts removed included Rubens ‘Descent from the Cross’ painting which shows a bare-chested Jesus.

As per Facebook's policy, any ads containing sexually oriented content, including artistic or educational nudes, apart from statues, are prohibited. Meanwhile, the Flemish Tourist Board is using all the means to attract visitors to the Flemish Master Project by 2020. A number of "Paintings by Flemish Masters" exhibitions are currently underway in several locations across northern Belgium. But the advertising is proving difficult with Facebook’s censorship. To oppose the move, a playful protest is also being done by the Visit Flanders agency. They have made a video which shows security staff removing visitors if they have a Facebook profile and are found to be looking at a painting of nudity.

Toerisme Vlaanderen, the tourism board has also issued a letter to Mark Zuckerberg which has been signed by a number of museums. The letter protests about how the nudity ban was preventing the promotion of the works. The letter reads, "We have noticed that Facebook consistently rejects works of art by our beloved Peter Paul Rubens… Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, you cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us." It also adds, "If Peter Paul Rubens had created a Facebook account in his lifetime, he would have had an extraordinary number of people following his fan page."

Facebook Bans Nudity? Social Media Removes Flemish Paintings by Rubens For Nude Content

The Flanders Tourist Board has written an open letter protesting against Facebook's "cultural censorship" of adverts showing paintings by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.

The removed ad featured the artist's The Descent from the Cross, which shows a bare-chested Jesus.

Following the ban, the authority made a satirical video with fake investigators ushering visitors out of a museum after they looked at similar paintings.

Facebook has not yet responded.

The letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was signed by the chief executive of Visit Flanders, Peter de Wildes, and supported by a network of museums and cultural institutions.

It reads: "The bare breasts and buttocks painted by our artist are considered by you to be inappropriate.

"Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, your cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us.

"After all, we want to use your platform to promote both our Flemish masters as well as Flanders - because art lovers use Facebook too.

"If Peter Paul Rubens had created a Facebook account in his lifetime, he would have had an extraordinary number of people following his fan page."

The letter asks Facebook to rethink its policy on what is allowed to be published.

The Flanders Tourist Board is currently attempting to attract more visitors to its Flemish Master Project, which puts the spotlight on the famous 15th Century artists in the region.

Poking fun at Facebook, the tourist board also posted a satirical video on YouTube showing tourists at the Rubens House, in Antwerp, being ushered away from paintings featuring nudity.

In the video, fake inspectors remove those who admit to having a profile on the social network, explaining that they have to be protected "against nudity even if artistic in nature, including paintings that feature individual body parts such as abs, buttocks or cleavage".

Facebook does allow images of nude paintings on its site but has tougher rules for adverts which must not contain nudity, or implied nudity, even if that is artistic in nature.

Facebook angers Flanders with Rubens ban

A Canadian museum whose ads featuring Picasso nudes were rejected by Facebook says it is pleased the social media giant is reviewing its nudity policy.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts online ad for its big summer exhibit was blocked because it showed abstract breasts painted by the modern master.

The museum eventually had to reach out directly to Facebook in order to get the posts authorised.

The painting used "wasn't shocking", said museum spokeswoman Pascale Chasse.

In fact, Pablo Picasso's Femmes à la toilette was the one of the main promotional press images for the show, which looks at the influence of African art on Picasso and the artist's subsequent impact on contemporary African artists.

It was being used in print and television ads and on the main banner hanging outside the museum in downtown Montreal.

After the first image was rejected, they tried with a new ad using a more abstract image: Large Still Life with Pedestal Table.

It too, was turned down, as was their third attempt.

"The algorithm doesn't see the difference between a piece of art and a bad ad," Ms Chasse told the BBC.

Facebook does allow users to post images of nude paintings, as well as photographs of paintings, sculptures and other art that depicts nude figures.

The standards for advertisements are currently more stringent and do not allow nudity in paintings in ads, though an exception was made in this instance.

That policy is part of an ongoing review by the company, which has been criticised before for blocking ads featuring renowned works of art.

In July, the Flemish tourist board issued a complaint to Facebook after it removed a number of posts showing paintings by artist Peter Paul Rubens for nudity.

Last year, an Australian auction house was blocked from advertising a painting by acclaimed artist Charles Blackman depicting nude figures and a cat.

"We want to make sure that museums and other institutions are able to share some of their most iconic paintings and are currently reviewing our approach to nudity in paintings in ads on Facebook," a spokesperson for the company said in a statement.

Now that the museum's posts have been accepted, Ms Chasse says the whole thing was "a little comical".

Facebook rejects Montreal museum's ad over Picasso nude

In late 2017, a woman posted a photo on Facebook of “Venus of Willendorf,” a roughly 30,000-year-old statue that is a famous depiction of women and fertility.

Facebook ruled the picture was pornographic and removed it.

The statue’s home, Vienna’s Natural History Museum, was not happy with what it called censorship. “An archaeological object, especially such an iconic one, should not be banned from Facebook because of ‘nudity,’ as no artwork should be,” the museum said in a statement.

Facebook apologized, but other instances of social media platforms banning artwork followed over the years. So Vienna’s tourism board is trying a different approach — showcasing museums’ art on OnlyFans, a subscription-based website most closely associated with sex work. For $4.99 a month, subscribers to the tourism board’s page can check out “explicit” works held at four of the Austrian capital’s famous museums.

In announcing the “Vienna laid bare” campaign, the tourism board said the museums and their artwork “are among the casualties of this new wave of prudishness — with nude statues and famous artworks blacklisted under social media guidelines.” Those museums give people a chance to see works by artists including Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser, who “pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in art at the time,” the tourism board said.

“So it hardly comes as any surprise to learn that some of their artworks fell foul of the censors over 100 years ago,” the tourism board added. “And the battle against censorship still rages on: with the rise of social media, bans like these are back in headlines once again. Major social media channels like Instagram and Facebook have nudity and ‘lewd’ content firmly in their sights.

“That’s why we decided to put the capital’s world-famous ‘explicit’ artworks on OnlyFans.”

The campaign was devised after some of Vienna’s museums, including the Leopold Museum and the Albertina, ran into problems posting artwork containing nudity to social media. In July, the Albertina’s TikTok account was suspended and then blocked for publishing Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki’s pictures. The suspension forced the museum to create a new account. In 2019, Instagram determined that a painting by Peter Paul Rubens violated the platform’s rules prohibiting any nudity, even if it is “artistic or creative in nature.” And this year, the Leopold Museum sought to mark its 20th anniversary by producing a short video featuring Koloman Moser’s 1913 painting “Liebespaar,” which shows a nude couple. Facebook and Instagram rejected it as “potentially pornographic.”

Helena Hartlauer, a spokeswoman for the Vienna Tourist Board, told NBC News that social media was a critical tool for museums looking to showcase their artwork while obeying social-distancing guidelines during the pandemic. She said she worried that social media policies would lead artists to self-censor their creativity to be able to showcase, promote and sell their artwork online without its being banned.

“Right now, an algorithm determines what is okay to see and what is not,” Hartlauer said. “And it definitely should not determine our cultural legacy.”

OnlyFans has made its own news recently over censorship. In August, the company announced it was banning “sexually explicit” content, a move it said was the result of requests from the banking industry. But after blowback from a significant number of users, OnlyFans quickly scuttled the plans.

Hartlauer said the tourism board would keep the OnlyFans account beyond the “Vienna laid bare” campaign, though she told the Guardian she did not know how the page would be updated.

“This marketing initiative of ours is not the ultimate solution for this problematic relationship between the art world and social media, but … we want to stand up for our values and our beliefs,” she said. “Vienna has always been famous for being open-minded.”

Social media companies kept banning pictures of ‘explicit’ art. So, Vienna museums will now post on OnlyFans.