The heated debate over Facebook’s vague and seemingly selective nudity guidelines has been reignited with the banning of the promotional book trailer for Michal Lemberger’s After Abel and Other Stories — a trailer that includes various medieval and Renaissance artwork depicting nude women.
The book, which rewrites famous biblical stories from the perspectives of the various women who play key roles within them, has received praise for its creative reimagining of the biblical tales from mainstream publications like Publisher’s Weekly and several other authors in the field of biblical studies. According to associate publisher Patty O’Sullivan, who attempted to buy the sponsored ad space on Facebook to run the promotional trailer before being declined, “You could not have a more seriously literary book, which is why this whole thing is so ridiculous.”
Although the book is not a tawdry romance novel, the explanation that O’Sullivan received from Facebook might suggest otherwise — or at least further demonstrate the increasingly vague and subjective interpretations of offensive “nudity” within the private company’s posting guidelines: “Ads are not allowed to promote the sale or use of adult products or services, including toys, videos, publications, live shows or sexual enhancement products.”
In light of Facebook’s refusal to run the ad, the publisher appealed Facebook’s decision, but so far nothing has been resolved.
This is not the first time that Facebook has taken action against the posted of classic works of art that are determined to violate their guidelines. Earlier this year a French primary school teacher’s account was suspended for his posting of the famous Gustave Courbet painting, L’Origine du monde, which shows a close up of a nude woman’s nether region. The teacher would go on to sue Facebook in a Parisian court of law not only to have his account reinstated, but also for $22,000.
Ultimately, Facebook as a private entity, has the right to decide what can and cannot be posted on their site, and although they have relaxed their guidelines in the past few years to include certain artistic nudity, breastfeeding, and post-mastectomy scarring, cases like the After Abel book trailer incident indicate that subjectivity still plays a large role in the decisions to allow — or deny — the posting of certain materials. Facebook admits, though, that, “our policies can sometimes be more blunt than we would like and restrict content shared for legitimate purposes. We are always working to get better at evaluating this content and enforcing our standards.”
This being said, in order to overcome the subjective shortcomings in Facebook’s guidelines policy, diplomatic organized campaigning and discussion are key in situations like these. Facebook’s policies aren’t perfect, but prior discourse has led them to relax some of their policies. Hopefully, discussion of this case will help Facebook evaluate and clarify their policies further.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!