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Davis, California

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Hail to the Chief

Social networking website Facebook has come under fire recently for removing pictures from some membersprofiles. The pictures? They show women breastfeeding. This has led to not only the obligatory anti-Facebook policy Facebook groups, but women protesting outside of Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., the New York Times reports.

The women affected by this policy argue that the pictures are not obscene and Facebook shouldn’t flag them for being offensive.

Facebook argues that obscenity aside, the pictures are in violation of their nudity policy and have to come down.

You know what? Facebook is absolutely right.

One of the hardest things for media entities to manage is appropriate censorship. The bothersome aspect of absolute rules is that they are absolute; theres no room for negotiation.

It’s certainly unfortunate that these pictures are being flagged; I agree with the protesters that they aren’t harming anyone. I’ve never heard anyone complain that pictures of breastfeeding are offensive (though Im sure such people exist).

Be that as it may, degrees of nudity and whether they areokayor not for public consumption is purely subjective. No party would be completely happy if Facebook created a special department of people whose job it was to sift through pictures and decide which were offensive and which weren’t; some would slip through the cracks and there would be problems.

What is a realistic solution (and what’s actually happening) is to have a strict policy regarding nudity. Any picture that violates the policy is flagged. Facebook even has specific guidelines on what makes nudity in picturesoffensive.

Spokesperson Barry Schnitt, quoted in The Jakarta Post, said that photos with exposed nipple or areola are considered obscene (and noted that this terminology still allows for many pictures showing breastfeeding).

Absolute rules like this might be frustrating, but theyre better than the alternative.

Another complaint from the protesting mothers is that Facebook is unfairly targeting women with these rules (men can have pictures showing their nipples). This complaint really goes beyond Facebook and is more a complaint about what’s acceptable in our society; this certainly isn’t a complaint I’ve heard before and it doesn’t seem reasonable to suddenly hold a website accountable for it.

All of these arguments aside, the fact is that Facebook is a private entity and has the right to do whatever it wants with its website, which means flagging whatever it damn well pleases.

This incident should make people realize how hard it is for media outlets to censor material in a consistent, inoffensive manner. Even when they do, there are still problems (Janet Jacksons Nipplegate comes to mind).

All this by way of saying that the public should consider all sides of an equation before getting in a huff. Media outlets are generally doing the best they can to not censor folks; they want their customers to be as happy as possible, which means getting in their face as little as possible.

 

RICHARD PROCTER hopes everyone had a nice holiday break! Send him happy thoughts at rhprocter@ucdavis.edu

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