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The story behind the Facebook-censored 'Check it before it's removed' campaign featured on the cover of The Drum

This week, The Drum magazine carries this cover from Pink Ribbon Germany's 'Check it before it's removed' campaign. Predictably, the taboo-challenging campaign for breast cancer awareness was censored by Facebook, but we made it our cover after it was selected as one of the best pieces of creative work from 2016 in this issue. Here, Myles Lord of DDB Berlin, the agency behind the ad, shares the inside story of a campaign too important to be suppressed.

The crazy thing about this idea is that it was self-destructive – a little bit like those messages you get in Mission Impossible that explode once they have revealed the instructions.

Our posts were deleted by Facebook and Instagram moderators after around two hours. Sometimes posts only had a life a lifespan of just 20 minutes. We didn’t have the benefit of the usual ‘snowball’ viral effect where your central piece grows and grows, achieving more and more views and reach as it goes. We had to upload multiple posts from many social influencers and celebs – and with each post that was deleted we would have to say goodbye to all the associated shares, likes and comments. 'Check it before it's removed' targeted a younger female audience on social media but the real impact was made in mainstream media and online news pages.

On International Women’s Day we watched our campaign being almost completely wiped off Facebook and Instagram – firstly growing as people joined the action and shrinking again almost immediately. What made the big difference was the Pink Ribbon organisation announcing via a press release that its own posts to Facebook and Instagram had been censored. The press really picked up on this and it was amazing seeing how they embraced the action and even displayed the original uncensored photos. On Facebook we were disintegrating, but coverage on news pages like New York Times' 'Women of the World' ensured these pictures would be safe from moderators and the story and message would live on.

The campaign used Facebook’s strict censorship rules in a positive way. Without these rules and context, this message would have lost its sting and I doubt would have attracted that much attention. I think Facebook needs to review its approach to censorship, but at the same time I do appreciate that it is also just trying to protect people. I guess the bottom line is that it stands firm on these rules and is clear to everyone – so this message and context was very relatable to the audience.

As any advertiser knows, Facebook is a very rigid platform that doesn’t let you play with the format. The only disruption can come through the content itself. To make people take note, we had to break the rules and the taboo of displaying nipples on social media – but the rules needed to be there to be broken.

In the future, I think Facebook will need to have more advanced methods of censorship to filter out far greater ills that people really need to be protected from, like hate speech, cyber mobbing, fake news and whatever’s next. Now it has the nipple covered, it ought to go after the real dangerous content that poses a far greater risk.

Myles Lord is managing creative director at DDB Berlin

Read more on Facebook’s problematic relationship with censorship as calls come for the platform to crack down on how it moderates Live posts.