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Facebook targets Edinburgh feminist photo campaign

ByGavin Dewar

Apr 12, 2015

An online feminist photo campaign which aims “to give all women and non-binary people on [the University of Edinburgh] campus and beyond a platform to send out their message and raise their voices against oppression” has been targeted by Facebook censors for breaching its nudity rules.

Body Talk Edinburgh held three photoshoots across late March and early April, encouraging female and non-binary students to write defiant messages on their bodies.

The Body Talk Edinburgh Facebook page states: “Our bodies are weapons and all too often they are used against us, not by us or for us, but we can and will take them back.”

It urges participants in the photoshoots to “[s]how all skin or no skin, write or draw on yourself, send a message of solidarity or a message of anger – do whatever you want, about whatever you want.”

The campaign has also been raising money for the charity Dignity Alert Research Forum [DARF], which seeks to end the practices of female genital mutilation and forced marriages in the UK and Africa.

Body messages from the photoshoots include ‘My struggle for equality is yours and yours is mine,’ ‘My body is a battleground,’ and ‘To be apathetic is to be an accomplice.’

A few days after Body Talk Edinburgh started posting some ‘behind the scenes’ photos online, Facebook censors took action against the page. The photos included one of a woman in a bra and another of a fully naked woman. On 5 April, both were taken down.

Facebook identifies restriction of nudity in “awareness campaigns or artistic projects” as a way of protecting “some audiences within our global community [who] may be sensitive to this type of content – particularly because of their cultural background or age.”

On 6 April, after posting some photos from the campus photoshoots online, the Body Talk Edinburgh Facebook page was temporarily taken down. The campaign organiser, Chris Belous, successfully appealed to have the page republished, with some photos removed.

On 7 April, after promoting Body Talk material, including nude photos, on her personal account, Belous was suspended from posting for twenty-four hours. She proceeded to create a second Facebook account to continue promotion of the page in case her primary account was suspended again.

Belous, who is a Comment Editor at The Student and a former Feminist Society president, has posted more photos in subsequent days, but has adhered to Facebook’s rules on full nudity. However, photos which were taken down have been replaced with a body of text explaining why the photo was taken down, and urging supporters of the campaign to access the photo through Flickr.

On the Body Talk Edinburgh blog, she explains: “We do not want to lose Facebook as a platform because of how effective it is and has been so far, and because we do not want to lose the online record of our activity to date. This is why we are currently obeying the Facebook Community Standards – otherwise we risk losing our voices in this fight with Facebook completely. But don’t worry. The fight doesn’t end here.”

The blog asks: “Are female nipples more offensive than male nipples? Is a photo of a woman in her bra – as opposed to a bikini bra – really so hard to stomach? Do the women and non-binary people in these photos really not have the right to use Facebook as a platform if they show too much skin – skin which, if shown by male bodies, is not a problem? Do the photos of women fully naked (of which there are few) really count as pornography rather than campaign photos or even art?”

Speaking to The Student, she explained where Body Talk Edinburgh hopes to go next: “We’ve got all the photos up on Facebook as far as possible and absolutely everything is up on Flickr, but Body Talk isn’t stopping here.

“We’re planning another session in the next few weeks where people can take more photos if they’d like, and where the women and non-binary people whose photos were censored can come and edit their photos so that they’re Facebook-acceptable and so we can call Facebook out on the hypocrisy of their Community Standards.

“What started as a fairly straightforward platforming campaign has taken on a different character because of the censorship we’ve faced while trying to express ourselves freely and we’re not standing down.”

Facebook nudity guidelines state: “In order to treat people fairly and respond to reports quickly, it is essential that we have policies in place that our global teams can apply uniformly and easily when reviewing content.

“As a result, 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.

“We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks. We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring. We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures and other art that depicts nude figures.”

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