Facebook got into some trouble last month when it removed, then reinstated, the iconic "napalm girl" Vietnam War photograph from its site. The action set off a brief but intense battle over censorship at the social media giant, with the editor of Norway's largest newspaper accusing Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg of abusing his power.
That battle has flared up again.
Last week, Swedish Cancer Society, a large nonprofit organization based in Stockholm, Sweden, posted to its Facebook page a cancer awareness video on how to perform a breast exam. The video, clocking in at 13 seconds, featured basic, animated images, including some very cartoon breasts:
Facebook quickly removed the video, mistaking it for an ad marketing "sex products or services," in violation of the social network's posting policy. A few days later, after repeated attempts from Swedish Cancer Society to get the video reinstated, Facebook finally brought the video back online. Via The Guardian:
Facebook subsequently apologized for banning the video, saying in a statement to The Guardian: “We’re very sorry. Our team processes millions of advertising images each week and, in some instances, we incorrectly prohibit ads. This image does not violate our ad policies. We apologize for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ads.”
In response to the censorship, [Swedish Cancer Society] issued an open letter to Facebook that features a revised cartoon image. This time, the pair of breasts, areolae and nipples are constructed of pink squares rather than pink circles.
In its letter, the charity added a jab at Facebook. Translation via Google:
After trying to meet your control for several days without success, we have now come up with a solution that will hopefully make you happy: two pink squares! This can not possibly offend you, or anyone. Now we can continue to spread our important breast school without upsetting you.
Policing explicit content on a site with 1.71 billion monthly users is a difficult and unenviable task. It's easy to see how an error like this could occur, and it's good that Facebook apologized and corrected the situation relatively quickly.
But it's harder to sympathize when this stuff keeps happening. And harder still when Facebook keeps overstepping its bounds in deciding what users can and can't see. Let's hope Facebook can finally get it right.