Meta advised to ‘free the nipple’ after non-heteronormative couple unjustly penalised on Instagram

By Mason Berlinka

Published Jan 19, 2023 at 03:12 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Remember when Instagram was just Instagram and Facebook was just Facebook? The days before social media monopolisation seem so simple when put in contrast with today’s digital world. Now, half of our time on social media is dominated by Mark Zuckerberg’s matrix-obsessed  Meta. And we’ve seen enough to know that when one company controls the playing field for this long, it usually gets to make the rules—take Ticketmaster and its monopoly over the concert industry.

In Meta’s case, the rules in question are often ambiguous and inconsistent ones targeting female nudity—more specifically, that of the nipple. In a surprising turn of events however, it seems like the company’s stance against bodily expression might be about to finally change.

On Tuesday 17 January 2023, Meta’s well meaning yet slightly ominous content oversight board recommended that the company change the policies of its “adult nudity and sexual activity community standard.” The board asserted that it needs to be “governed by clear criteria that respect international human rights standards,” a change that is long overdue for social media platforms.

The recommendation was sparked by a moderation issue on Instagram which saw a couple’s post taken down because it featured both of them—a transgender individual and a non-binary individual—bare-chested with their nipples taped over. The photo was flagged by Meta’s automated content regulation systems and following user reports, resulting in the post being removed, seemingly due to the reference to breasts and  link to a fundraising page.

The decision was appealed, first to Meta and then to its oversight board, with the former ultimately accepting wrongdoing and reinstating the photo. The existing policy is based on a “binary view of gender” that makes it unclear as to how the rules apply for “intersex, non-binary and transgender people.”

The board went on to say that the rules for female nipples are “extensive and confusing,” particularly when trying to apply them to transgender individuals and those who don’t conform to the gender binary. The moderation body correctly stated that the rules are convoluted and exceptions poorly defined. Essentially, there needs to be consistency and clarity in the policy the company asserts.

Meta’s oversight board’s stance on the matter is hugely refreshing—although not as timely as it could have been, given that campaigning for this issue has long been in motion, with the #FreeTheNipple movement entering the mainstream in 2013. The desexualisation of the nipple and bodily freedom has persisted as an integral part of the feminist dialogue and with this wake up call, Meta stands to use its platform for positive societal change. About damn time, eh?

So, what’s going to change if the potential move does actually happen? Well, Meta has 60 days to publicly respond to the board’s decision on reforming its current rules and standards on nudity. Should it take on the board’s advice, the company will need to employ a new nudity policy that is far clearer on its boundaries and more consistent in its dealings with all people—regardless of their gender identity.

Of course, sexually graphic imagery will remain prohibited but general nudity that doesn’t promote pornography is likely to not face as much discrimination on the popular social media platforms. Trans and non-binary people will find the changes affecting them most positively, as their bare chests will no longer become a point of confusion for Meta’s moderating team and algorithms.

In a statement to The Guardian, a representative from Meta said that the Big Tech giant is welcoming the board’s decision and that it plans to work with “LGBTQ+ advocacy organisations” in resolving the issue.

The fight for gender equality won’t be over for a long time, but given how much sway the social media titan has, we hope that these new laxed nipple rules will mark a valuable step forward.

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