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Facebook censors nude Neptune statue, writer says

Commentary: It's acceptable for the city of Bologna, but Facebook apparently thinks it's rude.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


The offending statue.

Allan Baxter, Getty Images

Facebook's naughty bits police have been active for some years.

They ensure, for example, that human eyes don't have to witness a doll's nipples or even works of art.

It seems, though, the company continues to struggle with the difference between real body parts and those that have been created by human hands.

As the Telegraph reports, Italian writer Elisa Barbari decided to use a picture of a local Bologna icon -- the statue of Neptune -- on her Facebook page.

Facebook, however, seems to have found it a touch too risqué.

Barbari said she received a message from Facebook's censors that said, in part, her image contained "content that is explicitly sexual and which shows to an excessive degree the body, concentrating unnecessarily on body parts."

Tell that to Giambologna, who created the statue in the 1560s. Since then, it doesn't appear to have offended too many people, although Barbari told the Telegraph it was occasionally covered up in the 1950s for school graduation parades.

The statue merely depicts Neptune holding a trident and looking, well, muscular.

Barbari said Facebook was very explicit about what constitutes explicit. The company's message to her also read: "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."

On Monday, Barbari said the photo had not been reinstated. A Facebook spokeswoman told me: "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 apologize for the error."

This is merely the latest brouhaha involving Facebook's censors. In September, the company removed an iconic image of a naked child during the Vietnam War that had appeared on a Norwegian newspaper's Facebook page.

It took the intervention of the paper's editor-in-chief and the country's prime minister to get the company to back down.

Currently, Barbari's Facebook page enjoys a picture of the Neptune statue from behind, his muscular buttocks perhaps making a symbolic gesture toward Facebook's censors. Her page does, however, also enjoy a link to an article about Facebook's alleged actions, with a full-frontal image of Neptune.

Facebook has been struggling with its own identity for some time. It once insisted it was merely a technology company. Then it admitted it was some sort of media company.

Surely by now, it should be able to distinguish -- as many a media would -- between art and smut.

Update, 5:39 p.m. PT: Added comment from Facebook.