February 5, 2023

Content creators have long criticized Facebook and Instagram’s content moderation policies for partially nude photos, arguing that their practices are inconsistent and often biased against women and LGBTQ people.

This week, the oversight board of Meta, the platform’s parent company, strongly recommended that Instagram clarify its guidelines for such photos after it removed two posts depicting non-binary and transgender people with bare breasts.

The posts were quickly reinstated after the couple appealed, with Meta’s oversight board overturning their original decision to remove them. This is the first time the commission has directly involved a gender-nonconforming user.

“Limitations and exceptions to the female nipple rule are broad and confusing, especially when they apply to trans and non-binary people,” Meta’s Oversight Board in its case brief said Tuesday. “The policy itself lacks clarity, creates uncertainty for users and reviewers, and makes it unworkable in practice.”

The problem arose when a transgender and nonbinary couple posted pictures of their bare breasts covering their nipples in 2021 and 2022. The headline included details about fundraising for one member of the couple’s top surgery, a gender-affirming procedure that flattens a person’s breasts. Instagram removed the photos after other users flagged them, saying they depicted breasts violation The site’s sexual solicitation community standards. The couple appealed the decision and the photo was later reinstated.

The couple’s back-and-forth on Instagram underscored criticism of the platform’s unclear guidelines for adult content. according to its community guidelinesInstagram bans nudity, with some exceptions for a range of content types, including mental health awareness posts, depictions of breastfeeding and other “health-related situations” – parameters Meta’s board called “confusing and ill-defined” in its summary .

How to decide what depictions of people’s breasts should be allowed on social media platforms has long been a bone of contention. Many artists and activists believe there is a double standard, with posts about women’s boobs more likely to be deleted than men’s. The same goes for transgender and nonbinary people, advocates say.

Meta’s oversight board, made up of 22 academics, journalists and human rights advocates, is funded by Meta but operates independently of the company and makes binding decisions for it. The group recommends that platforms further clarify community standards for adult nudity and sexual activity “so that all people are treated in a manner consistent with international human rights standards, without discrimination based on sex or gender.”

It also calls for “a comprehensive human rights impact assessment of such changes, involving different stakeholders, and developing a plan to address any harms identified.”

Meta has 60 days to review the oversight committee’s summary, and a company spokesman said they would publicly respond to each of the committee’s recommendations by mid-March.

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