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Instagram and Facebook may soon lift ban on female nipples

Meta Oversight Board says policy prevents right of expression for trans and non-binary women and people

Instagram and Facebook may soon lift ban on female nipples Meta Oversight Board says policy prevents right of expression for trans and non-binary women and people

After years of discrimination and struggles the #FreetheNipple movement supported by celebrities such as Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Chiara Ferragni and Victoria De Angelis, may be close to a small victory and see Instagram and Facebook abolish the ban on female nipples. At a meeting on Jan. 17, Meta's Oversight Board, the group of university professors, politicians and journalists who advise on content moderation, suggested that the company that owns Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp change the policy regarding images of nude bodies and sex scenes so "that it is governed by clear criteria that respect international human rights standards." 

First to report the news was The Guardian, explaining that the action became necessary after an American trans and non-binary couple had two posts on Instagram about transition surgery, shared for publicity and benefit, removed. Both contents featured a photo of a topless person, but with her nipples covered, accompanied by some information about how health care works for transgender people, breast surgeries, and links to charity fundraisers. Following anonymous reports from users, the posts had been removed by the artificial intelligence system regulated by the censorship algorithm, but the couple appealed, eventually getting the two posts reinstated. After carefully reviewing the matter, the board noted that "the policy is based on a binary view of gender and a distinction between male and female bodies," an approach that makes enforcement of the rules "unclear" and restrictive of the freedom of expression of women and intersex, nonbinary and transgender users. That is why a review is needed so as to "define clear, objective and rights-respecting criteria so that all people are treated in a manner consistent with international human rights standards without sex or gender discrimination."

As Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, pointed out, the real challenge will be figuring out how Meta and the algorithm governing its automated content moderation system can create new rules and distinguish between, for example, a topless post and porn. Mark Zuckerberg's company is not obliged to implement the Oversight board's guidance, which is only advisory in nature, but it has 60 days to make a decision. In a press release it specified that it "welcomes the board’s decision in this case," noting that the couple's photos had been reinstated even before its recommendation, and goes on to say that its own policy is constantly evolving, especially on LGBTQ+ issues. It is willing to work with experts and organizations to improve it. Does this mean that in the near future the restrictions on nipples and nudity will actually change? Many are hoping so.