Violent controversy about (art) censorship through Facebook


Ex-Sotheby’s Australia chairman writes open letter to Mark Zuckerberg following censorship of his new art auction venture.

Next month, newly-launched auction house Fine Art Bourse will host their inaugural auction entitled Erotic, Fetish and Queer art. The content of the auction certainly has raised a few eyebrows, and even faced censorship from Facebook.

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Dear Mark,

On July 28th our auction house Fine Art Bourse went live as the first cloud based art auction platform and we took to Facebook to start sharing our content with the world. From August 3rd, we began our attempts to create Facebook ads and were shocked to find that not only were we immediately blocked from advertising, but Facebook went on to flag our entire account, making it nearly impossible for us to adjust our content and appeal.

This issue is much bigger than Fine Art Bourse. I understand the need for an organization to have standards. It requires great diligence to keep millions of users across a worldwide demographic from getting offended, but your nudity policies are bullshit and frankly I am not the only one who’s outraged at which sort of material you deem inappropriate.

With just a few clicks of my mouse, I was able to find countless stories over a history of ludicrous censorship against female sexuality and particularly, women’s breasts. Before 2015 you were banning photos of breastfeeding women. In 2012 you banned the poster of Pauline Delpech, depicting the importance of regular breast cancer screenings. In 2016 you blocked Sydney artist Ella Dreyfus for posting photographs of ageing nude women, and you censored Aboriginal rights activist Celeste Liddle for posting an image of two Aboriginal women with painted chests and bare breasts engaged in a cultural ceremony in the desert.

What these scandals have in common is that Facebook is not drawing any distinction between hyper-sexualized images of women, pornography, nudity for awareness, nudity for innovation, and nudity in art.

Your guidelines, equally, have been all over the place and only amended under social pressure.

In 2015 you stated that images being used for humorous or satirical purposes are allowed: “Restrictions on the display of both nudity and sexual activity also apply to digitally created content unless the content is posted for educational, humorous or satirical purposes.” Two years later and we’re going backwards, with your reply to us last week stating: “We don’t allow adverts that depict nudity, even if it isn’t sexual in nature. This includes the use of nudity for artistic or educational purposes.”

The problem is not the fact that you have conservative advertising guidelines, it’s that you’ve designed a system that doesn’t allow for real judgement. As a brand, Facebook seems to be using its monopoly over social interaction to impose absurd standards of political correctness. The censorship issue is a serious matter that requires ethical judgement, human sensibility, and accountability. I believe failure is inevitable if you continue to cut corners and rely on robots to handle complaints and individual cases, rather than train your staff. You’re running one of the 10 most valuable companies of the last decade and your censorship protocol on nudity is no more sophisticated than a brief to an office in Hyderabad, India to “remove sexual content”. It’s laughable…

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Erotic, fetish and queer auction…