Facebook Censorship: Which Images Passed (And Failed) The Nudity Test?

Facebook Censorship: Which Images Passed (And Failed) The Nudity Test?

While Facebook and Instagram make their stances on naked flesh relatively clear, where and when they enact their nipple and nudity censorship have become infamously arbitrary. These examples — from Picasso artworks (banned) to Kim Kardashian nudes (allowed) — show just how arbitrary the policy is.

Facebook claims to rely on human eyes only when it comes to deciding which images get past its decency standards. Instagram has a similar protocol, although an unfortunate incident of a “suggestive” Easter simnel cake (more below) left many suspecting the use of nipple detecting software by the social media giant, owned by Facebook.

So, what does and doesn’t pique the interests of our all-powerful social media moderators? Let’s take a look.


The Little Mermaid by Edvard Eriksen, 1913. Inspired by the father of fairytales Hans Christian Andersen. Danish politician Mette Gjerskov had one of her posts removed from Facebook because it contained a small image of the world-famous statue.


Evelyne Axell’s pop art image, Ice Cream, painted in 1964, is as striking as it is modern. The image was always meant to provoke. Staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art posted the image by the Belgian artist onto the museum’s Facebook page, only to find that it was removed hours later.


Body painted Aboriginal women from the Northern Territory, photographed engaging in a traditional ceremony. A New Matilda article, featuring the words of activist and columnist Celeste Liddle, was illustrated by the image. It was soon removed from Liddle’s Facebook page and from those where the article was shared.


Images of Kim Kardashian, naked but for smears of white body paint, appear on the reality TV star’s Facebook page and on that of Esquire’s, where a story about the desert shoot ran the same week that the above image of the native ceremony was censored. The images were not, apparently, deemed to contravene any nudity rules.


Simnel cake, baked by British cook and Instagram user Sue Moseley to celebrate Easter. The image was removed, possibly because its marzipan decoration resembled – at a very long shot – nipples. #freethesimnel soon took off on social media.


Sydney-based artist Ella Dreyfus’ images from a 1999 exhibition were published in major news sites at the time. They explore the ageing female body and bias of acceptability.This image did not pass Facebook’s test, incensing the artist and her fans, whose pages were stripped of the image.


A second Dreyfus image uploaded to Facebook. This picture did pass the test, leading Dreyfus to theorise that the more obviously female the breast features are, the more likely the image is to be blocked by censors.


When US-based Australian artist Illma Gore carefully drew an imaginary nude portrait of Donald Trump, the gender fluid provocateur was unlikely to have guessed its impact. The image is now banned from public view in the US, is showing at a Mayfair gallery in London and has been downloaded many times from Gore’s site, where the image is available for free.

The move landed Gore and many of those who posted the image with a temporary ban from Facebook when it emerged in February. After encountering censorship on mainstream social media, the artist now uses social media website 500px, which does not have the same community standards, but features a security screen across some images, warning users of adult content and asking them whether they would like to proceed.


Artist Rachel Libeskind says her work has been targeted multiple times by Instagram community standards monitors and questions its morals when it comes to violent images or “disgusting, empty images of females”. She told Artreport.com that her account was once suspended for featuring a Picasso Blue Period nude.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


  • While these decisions are obviously arbitrary, why do people think that companies need to display their images? Companies usually reserve the right to remove any content they want to, and they don’t have to comply to any notion of fairness or consistency.

    It’s the risk you take when putting your content onto somebody else’s servers.

    • Because the company, Facebook in this case boast how they uphold freedoms of speech etc. So when they censor a cake it does seem a bit hypocritical.

      • And stupid people believe them. Anyone who places their rights into the hands of a company who can, on a whim, change their terms of service are naive to say the very least.

        If you put up nude images of women, be they of some pseudo-celeb or a bunch of indigenous woman in a ritual, FB will decide what stays and what doesn’t. That decision will no doubt be motivated by profit.

        • I like how you call people stupid. For saying they’re giving up there rights. You don’t actually seem to know what a right is.
          Name one right you have given up?
          Even though it is off the topic.

          • My point was if someone thinks a company is actually pro-rights; free speech, expression, press, religion, protest, etc. then they are stupid. A company is pro-profit. A company might temporarily advocate a right in a circumstance they think will be advantageous to them (like that boasting you referenced earlier) but they don’t really care beyond it when compared to keeping shareholders happy. And nor should they, it isn’t their jobs.

            I never said anyone gave up their rights, I said not to place your rights into the hands of a company because they have no responsibility to protect your freedoms or entitlements.

            All of this is a moot point personally because I don’t even use FB, I just understand they are a company that can censor whatever they want without rhyme or reason. If people think FB’s actions are that egregious & insulting to common sense then perhaps they should cease using FB’s service.

  • I think it really comes down to who reviews it. Some just hit ban on everything, others do their job. I had an image that got reported, they said it was within their community standards, so I posted the same image to Instagram which shares to my Facebook, reported again, this time I copped a 24 hour ban.

  • I couldn’t find anything to support the claim that Illma Gore’s Trump thing is “banned from public view in the US”. I’ve… never even heard of anything like that. It is ‘banned’ from Facebook and eBay, but that seems to be the extent of it. Poor (or sensationalistic) writing there, I guess.

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