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Art School Nudity Debacle: Does Facebook Just Make Poor Policy?

facebook logo of steven assael's workAfter the New York Academy of Art uploaded some images to the school's Facebook page back at the end of January, it received that standard-issue alert: "You uploaded a photo that violates our Terms of Use, and this photo has been removed." The photo in question was an ink-on-paper nude of a woman's torso by Steven Assael, included in an exhibition at Eden Rock Gallery in St. Barth's. When the school tried to upload more images a few days later, its account was suspended from adding new photos for a week. "They must have decided that we are a repeat offender," the school's president David Kratz told the New York Times.

Long story short, the school wrote up an outraged blog post about Facebook's seemingly draconian policy, crying censorship and demanding to know: "How is Facebook controlling art?" (Some of its points are tenuous: "How does the de-facebooking of other works of fine art connect to the recent decision by the Smithsonian to remove David Wojnarowicz's artwork from the National Portrait Gallery's online and on-site exhibition?" Actually a pretty big difference there.) Facebook apologized, explaining that, while naked photos are verboten, "the company has an unwritten policy that allows drawings or sculptures of nudes."

The site only reviews pictures that have been flagged as inappropriate by users. "In this case, we congratulate the artist on his lifelike portrayal that, frankly, fooled our reviewers," wrote Facebook spokesman Simon Axten in a statement. Nice apology.

While there are stories of Facebook deleting other artists' works for similar reasons -- and even those two times that the site removed photos of women who'd undergone post-breast cancer mastectomies -- can we fairly say that Facebook's propriety police are a bunch of sex-hating nevernudes? (And was this maybe a series of flukes? The Metropolitan Museum of Art told the Times that it has never had any issues with posting nude images from its exhibitions on Facebook.)

The problem is that Facebook is straddling a line between shielding underaged and conservative users from porn while also providing an outlet for creative expression. Unfortunately, the site's not doing it very well. Even with its "unwritten policy" that art nudity is a-okay, Facebook's stance on nakedness is convoluted and difficult. Photos and video aren't allowed at all because they have the potential for pornography, but sculpture and drawing are inherently inoffensive, goes the Facebook logic. Tell that to Eric Fischl's nudes (like this one of a dude masturbating in a pool) or Marilyn Minter's blowjob paintings. What about Jeff Koons's infamous 'Made in Heaven' sculptures, based on his kitsch-porn photos? Louise Bourgeois's 'Fillette'? John Currin? It's an endless list.

By the way, all of those links are totally safe for work, if your employer believes, as Facebook does, that drawings and sculptures can't be pornographic.

Tags: art, censorship, facebook, NewYorkAcademyOfArt, socialnetworking, top, web