Facebook’s porn filter has trouble distinguishing real breasts from bronze ones

September 25, 2013
The ACLU's photo of the Kansas statue (ACLU)
The ACLU's photo of the Kansas statue. (ACLU)

If sculptor Yu Chang was trying to create controversy with his statue of a topless woman taking a snapshot of herself, he's succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Conservative groups have been petitioning to have the statue declared legally obscene. A few days ago, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote about the case and posted a link to the post on its Facebook page.

That triggered Facebook's pornography filter, which apparently mistook the statue's bronze breasts for the flesh-and-blood kind. The post was removed, and the ACLU says it was blocked from posting to its Facebook page for 24 hours.

ACLU attorney Lee Rowland points out that Facebook's rules specifically mention Michelangelo's famous nude statue David as an example of the type of post that isn't subject to content filtering. Chang may not be as talented an artist as Michelangelo, but it certainly seems like his work should qualify for the same exemption.

But the ACLU couldn't find a way to appeal the decision, and filling out Facebook's official feedback form proved fruitless. Eventually, the civil liberties organization was able to contact Facebook's public policy team to get the content reinstated.

That's a happy ending of sorts for the ACLU, but as the organization's Lee Rowland points out, ordinary users may not be so lucky. If you don't represent a prominent national organization, it can be a challenge to get Facebook's attention.

The Kansas kerfuffle isn't the first time Facebook has been befuddled by breasts. The site used to take down pictures of mothers breast-feeding their babies before protests from militant moms forced them to revise the policy. User pressure also caused Facebook to revise a policy against posting post-mastectomy images. And last year the site mistook a woman's elbow for a breast.

Update: "With more than a billion users, our team processes hundreds of thousands of reports each week and we occasionally make a mistake," a Facebook spokesperson says. "In this case, we mistakenly removed content from the ACLU's page and worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified."

(Disclosure: The Washington Post company's chairman and chief executive, Donald Graham, is a member of Facebook's board of directors.)

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Andrea Peterson · September 25, 2013