Why Facebook Blocked Me For Sharing A Painting By Artist Orijit Sen

Posted on January 31, 2016 in Media

By Shambhavi Saxena

I’ve had my social media accounts hacked into once or twice before. The first time it was a friend with a poor sense of humour. The second, it was the real deal. And the recovery process was very, very angsty. But I’ve never had my account suspended by Facebook before. Until this Saturday.

First, I thought it was a hack. Bad things come in threes, right? Then I got this:

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“Oh,” I thought. “Oh no, they didn’t.”

A few days ago, this painting by graphic artist and designer Orijit Sen was reported for violating Facebook’s community standards. In a request-via-status-message, Sen asked Facebook users to defy the ridiculous rule and upload the image across multiple accounts. When I posted it to my own, it got reported within a day.

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And why? To me, it looked like an absolutely ordinary still from an absolutely ordinary day in somebody’s life – because well, we all tend to shower now and then, and we also all possess bodies. I was let off with a warning, but the second time I uploaded Sen’s painting, Facebook literally threw me out of the class room to think about what I’d done! What’s more, even with my account un-blocked now, I have been disallowed from posting a status message, adding friends, message anyone or comment on any posts.

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Now I don’t have anything against having some solid community standards in place. Hell, we were all glad when Facebook updated its policy last year to protect users from hate-speech and sexual harassment, and restricted content that showed in graphic detail any form of violence or sexual attack. The updated policy meant that a lot of women could report the creepy, borderline abusive messages from dudebros that flood their inboxes. It even includes a clause on self-harm, indicating the social network’s interest in the well-being of its user base. Sounds good.

Yet I don’t feel particularly good when an impersonal algorithm gets to decide that a non-offensive, non-abusive, mostly aesthetic image on my timeline means I should get blocked for 24 hours.

This despite the fact that Facebook Community Standards basically opens with this disclaimer: “Because of the diversity of our global community, please bear in mind that something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards.”

Sen’s painting is in no way different from the kind of ‘nudity’ that Facebook does allow – which includes breastfeeding (women have fought long and hard for this one), images of post-mastectomy surgery scars, and nude sculptures. And funnily enough, the website knows this to be true. Because the same image was uploaded to my mother’s account, anonymously reported, and then:

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According to the Community Standards, even well-intentioned images may be removed “because some audiences within [Facebook’s] global community may be sensitive to this type of content – particularly because of their cultural background or age.” But does that mean each post is individually evaluated? For the sake of uniform application, the answer is no, and the company itself has admitted that “our policies can sometimes be more blunt than we would like and restrict content shared for legitimate purposes.”

If I re-upload Sen’s painting now, I risk losing the profile I’ve been maintaining since 2008, losing all my contacts and all my content. I am being punished for nothing and I do not think that is fair.

The social network needs to further update its policy or its algorithm to take into consideration these “legitimate purposes.” Otherwise, what’s the point of having this online community that indiscriminately censors conversation?