META, the company behind Facebook and Instagram, is undergoing an internal debate over its nudity policy.
An independent body reviewing Meta policies recommended that the social media giant amend its Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity Community Standards so that there would be clear criteria “that respect international human rights standards.”
Furthermore, the Oversight Board overturned Meta’s earlier decision taking down two Instagram posts of bare-chested transgender and binary people.
“The restrictions and exceptions to the rules on female nipples are extensive and confusing, particularly as they apply to transgender and non-binary people,” Meta’s Oversight Board said.
Meta has yet to release the final guidelines.
What triggered this?
A US-based couple who identify themselves as transgender and non-binary posted Instagram photos of themselves bare-chested but with their nipples covered with flesh-colored tape.
In their caption, they said one of them would soon undergo gender-reaffirming surgery to create a flatter chest.They are raising funds for it, they added.
Meta took down the posts. The couple appealed.
Meta had reviewed the posts for potential violation of community standards, following alerts from its automated systems and reports from users. It removed these for violating the Sexual Solicitation Community Standard for containing breasts and a link to a fund-raising page.
The account owners appealed to Meta and the to the Board. After the Board accepted their cases and asked Meta to justify the content removal, Meta restored the posts. It said their removal was due to “enforcement errors” and the posts did not violate its policies.
What the Oversight Board said
The board said Meta’s original decision to take down the posts was not in line with its Community Standards, values, or human rights responsibilities.
It also found problems with the tech firm’s policies and said these capture more content than necessary.
This is due, in part, to Meta’s binary view of gender.
It noted that one of the posts was sent for review by an automated system that is supposed to detect violations of its adult nudity standard. This policy prohibits images that contain female nipples, except in specified situations such as breastfeeding and gender-confirmation surgery.
But the board said this is based on a binary view of gender and a distinction between male and female bodies.
It also makes it difficult to moderate content, it said.
“Such an approach makes it unclear how the rules apply to intersex, non-binary, and transgender people, and requires reviewers to make rapid and subjective assessments of sex and gender, which is not practical when moderating content at scale,” it said.
‘Confusing’ nipples policy
The Oversight Board also questioned the rules on the posting of nipples and described these as “extensive and confusing” especially when it comes to transgender and non-binary people.
There are exceptions to the rules, and these include scenes of protest, childbirth, and medical and health contexts, it noted. However, these exceptions are “often convoluted and poorly defined.”
“In some contexts, for example, moderators must assess the extent and nature of visible scarring to determine whether certain exceptions apply,” it said.
It also said there is confusion among users and moderators because guidelines on what to remove for violating the sexual solicitation policy are “far broader” than the publicly available guidance for it.
The board said Meta should be sensitive to the impact of its policies on people subject to discrimination.
“Here, the Board finds that Meta’s policies on adult nudity result in greater barriers to expression for women, trans, and gender non-binary people on its platforms,” it said.
It said the policies would have a severe impact on people who identify as LGBTQI+, and in contexts where women traditionally go bare-chested.
According to the Oversight Board, Meta should provide “clear, objective, rights-respecting” criteria for its Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity Community Standard.
It could include more uniform nudity policies that would apply without discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity, it said.
To achieve this, Meta should conduct a comprehensive human rights impact assessment, engage with a wide variety of stakeholders, and create a plan to address any harms.
It also said Meta should provide more detail in its Sexual Solicitation Community Standard on the criteria that lead to content being removed.
It should explain to users what constitutes an “offer or ask” for sex, and what constitutes sexually suggestive poses, it said.
Meta should likewise revise its guidelines for moderators to more accurately reflect the public rules on the policy in order to reduce errors, it said.
The Oversight Board
The Oversight Board is independent and is supposed to promote free expression through its decisions regarding content on Facebook and Instagram.
Its decisions to uphold or reverse Facebook’s content decisions will be binding, which means Facebook has to implement them unless doing so would violate the law.