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Facebook follows papal line on censorship

The whole internet is one giant penis room

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What do the Pope and Facebook have in common? They both abhor public displays of nudity.

Facebook though may not go to quite the lengths of one medieval pope, who allegedly sponsored the mass removal of every penis (of the statuary sort) in the Vatican - thereby giving rise to the legend of the papal penis room, where the removed organs were then stored.

In fairness to Facebook, it claims that its latest censoring of nakedness on the net owes more to human error than nanny corporatism.

According to Elinor Mills, a writer for CNET, a photo of Bliss Dance, a work of art, recently exhibited at the Nevada Burning Man event was this week removed from Facebook because, according to Facebook, the image violated the site's terms of use, which ban the posting of photos that contain nudity.

As with other stories of inconsistent Facebook intervention – most recently, our own questioning of Facebook about its failure to ban a group that incited violence in Serbia - this decision was swiftly reversed after CNET contacted Facebook to demand explanation.

Facebook informed the poster: "Our reviewers look at thousands of photos a day that are reported to them. Of course, they make an occasional mistake.

"This is just an example. Our compliments to the artist--the statue is quite lifelike. We encourage the person who uploaded the photo to repost it and apologize for any inconvenience."

A spokeswoman for Facebook in the UK was unable to add any more to that statement, beyond suggesting that there were of course exemptions to the no-nakedness policy for certain categories of objects. However, this is not obvious from a close reading of the site's terms and conditions.

What, then, of that pesky papal penis room? The idea that at least one Pope – allegedly the 19th century Pius IX – required that pagan statues have their willies lopped off is one that has frequently been propagated by tour guides, and is just as resolutely denied by Catholic officialdom. Whether it really happened or is mere urban myth remains up for debate.

The Vatican is not, however, wholly innocent in matters of censorship, having come in for much criticism from art historians for its "censorship" of paintings by artists such as Michaelangelo.

The question of how we treat nakedness has a serious side to it, with many arguing that by automatically equating the unclothed body with sex and porn, it is Facebook and the Church that is sexualising and objectifying our view of the world.

Avedon Carol, founding member of Feminists against Censorship, told us: "It [the censorship] is obscene."

She went on: “There’s a famous quote from Marilyn Chambers who points out that in American video and TV you can show a breast being cut or shot but you can’t show it being kissed.

"Its not about protecting anyone from sex: its about making sex dirty and keeping it dirty. They may pretend that they are not being anti-sex – but they are and there is no reason that sex should be stigmatised in that way. Sex isn’t the problem." ®

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