Fotografiska, the Swedish photography museum, has self censored images on its Facebook pages to avoid them being deleted by Facebook for contravening its rules on nudity. The museum currently has a show of around 200 Robert Mapplethorpe images. The image produced by the museum has itself become art, and sent a flurry around the art news media of the world. They have created this censored version of a Mapplethrope image because of Facebook’s infamy when it comes to portraying naked flesh, whether in the form of photographs or painted works of art. Facebook in fact says it has no problem with artwork, though it does have a history of taking work down when it has offended, whether art or not. What is OCA to do when it comes to portraying art portraying nudity on its own Facebook site? Self censor? The gallery deliberately chose to deface the Mapplethorpe image with a Facebook ‘friendly square’ partly to stop Facebook censoring their publicity but also, they say, to provoke debate. Facebook had previously deleted photographs by Helmut Newton and Mapplethorpe from the gallery’s Facebook site. Fotografiska is an independent museum and gallery. It opened in 2010, attracted 370,000 paying visitors in its first year. “Facebook is our most important marketing channel,” they say.
Various challenges to Facebook’s nudity policy have re-affirmed the need for pressure on Facebook. Uwe Max Jensen (Danish artist) challenged Facebook when he uploaded work by Anders Zorn, whose work is more than 100 years old, and is peppered with images of voluptuous naked women. Other Facebook campaign activities include the setting up of pressure groups including “Artists against Art Censorship” (403 members) and “Stop Censorship of Modern Art” (99 members). It does seem incredibly crass to have such a policy. Is it a case that they have a web crawler robot that indiscriminately throws out any nude image, no matter what its provenance? Surely even a Facebook robot wouldn’t have mistaken the Bliss Dance image placed in the Nevada Desert as part of the Burning Man festival as raw flesh? Well it did, and then apologized and suggested the user re-posted the image.
What does this tell us about the Facebook overlords? Facebook says that it only reviews images that are flagged by users, and that its staff reviews many thousands of images a day. In a society in which we are faced with undiluted nidity in the High Street, on the internet, in advertising, everywhere, what does Facebook think it has taken on? It seems a naive stance to have adopted, especially since many art colleges, artists and advertisers use Facebook as marketing tools. They may see a march away if this confusion about offensiveness does not abate.