Technology Facebook Censorship

Facebook apologises for error which blocked 'sexually explicit' photo of Neptune statue as censorship debate rumbles on


By Rebecca Stewart | Trends Editor

January 3, 2017 | 4 min read

Scrutiny over Facebook's censorship policies look set to rumble on in 2017, with the social network facing backlash for blocking a picture of a 16th-century statue of Neptune, which it deemed "sexually explicit".

Facebook blocks picture of Venus

Facebook apologises for error which blocked 'sexually explicit' photo of Neptune statue as censorship debate rumbles on

Bolognian writer Elisa Barbari posted a picture of the sculpture, which stands in the city's Piazza del Nettuno, to feature on her Facebook Page 'Stories, curiosities and views of Bologna' but was shocked when the social network said the image violated its guidelines.

In a standard message Facebook told Barbari that the photo of the nude Renaissance art was "explicitly sexual," adding: "The use of images or video of nude bodies or plunging necklines is not allowed, even if the use is for artistic or educational reasons."

Barbari posted a response on her Facebook page, saying: "Yes to Neptune, no to censorship.

"How can a work of art, our very own statue of Neptune, be the object of censorship?," she continued. "Back in the 1950s, during celebrations for schoolchildren graduating, they used to cover up Neptune. Maybe Facebook would prefer the statue to be dressed again."

A Facebook spokesperson has since issued a statement describing the censorship as "an error".

"Our team processes millions of advertising images each week, and in some instances we incorrectly prohibit ads. This image does not violate our ad policies. We apologise for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ad."

Facebook's overzealous approach to censorship landed the platform in hot water in 2016, coming to a head when the site's moderators blocked the iconic 'napalm girl' photo taken during the Vietnam war. The social network ultimately u-turned on the decision following pressure from global media spearheaded by Norway's largest newspaper, Aftenposten.

However, at the tail end of last year Facebook found itself the subject of widespread criticism over its failure to tackle fake news in light of the US election result. In 2016 the company let go of the team that handled its Trending Topics section, instead relying on algorithmic curation. It has since enabled fact checking from third parties, including users, to filter out fake news stories floated by the computer-based system.

Until now Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg had remained adamant that the business is not a media company, although last week he appeared to soften his stance, asserting: "Facebook is a new kind of platform. It’s not a traditional technology company. It’s not a traditional media company. You know, we build technology and we feel responsible for how it’s used."

Technology Facebook Censorship

More from Technology

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +