Q&A with photographer Claudia Hehr about Facebook nude photo censorship on Breast Cancer Fan Page

Photographer Claudia Hehr, (see previous post), has written back to me with the following responses. I will try and contact Facebook also.

Are all the photographs in the selection of images that you sent out ones that have been removed from Facebook?
Yes, the PDF (see previous post) consists only of pictures that have been removed. (Taken in December 2008 pre mastectomy). You can find the images in the Facebook photo album or on my website (different selection) in the NAKED portfolio.

Why did you choose to use a social networking site like Facebook to raise awareness?
Well, we (Meredith and I) are using the web in general to raise awareness. I have a portfolio up on my own website Claudia Hehr also there is a documentary in the making which has its own website Naked Documentary. Facebook seemed to be a great additional tool to reach out to people that are touched by cancer in any way. It actually turned out to be much bigger than we expected. We are now up to 2370 fans and it has been a wonderful tool for Meredith to communicate with people.

In choosing to put the photos up on a site that is accessible to everyone (public), including children, for example, isn’t there always the danger content will be subject to censorship by the site owners?
It’s true, the facebook fan pages are accessible to the public, however we made our fan page accessible for only people over 18 years old. That eliminates some of the concerns that parents had.

Following from this, how do you think the site owners should go about regulating photos of nudity and nipples on Facebook pages?
I just think there should be some equality. It is OK for men to be bare chested, but women are considered nude when they show their chests. That just doesn’t seem right. On top of that there are a ton of very offensive pictures of men on facebook, but somehow they don’t get taken off. I understand that it is hard to control a site that is as big as facebook, but in an ideal world I would want facebook to differentiate between plain nudity and artistic photography.

As you accepted Facebook’s Terms & Conditions, won’t Facebook simply argue that the this is a breach of the contract?
They might. However they didn’t even notify us the first time around, when they simply took down 4 images from our photo album. And wouldn’t you agree that it is crazy of facebook to leave pictures up that were taken post mastectomy and are showing breasts (but without nipples)? The second time, when they took down our profile picture, they simply said that we had uploaded offensive content and it had been removed. The profile picture showed Meredith in a fetal position on her bed, shot from above. You can’t see nipples or genitals at all. So how can that be considered offensive?

Have you managed to talk to anyone from Facebook?
That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do. It is impossible to talk to a real person at facebook. The system won’t allow for it.

What would you like Facebook to do in this case? Do you hope that in some cases (pls say which ones) that they should deal with it on a case by case basis?
First of all, I would love for facebook to issue an apology to Meredith and myself for calling the pictures offensive. And I think that they should differentiate as far as when fanpages have a cause (e.g. breast cancer) and/or are meant to be educational and raise awareness.

Do you want them to reinstate the photos?
Absolutely!!!

Is the press release aimed at generating awareness of this case, or are you hoping that it leads to a change in the contract? Would you want a clause inserted?
I think both. A lot of people aren’t fully aware of Facebook’s terms and conditions. I wasn’t either. A change in the contract would be fantastic.

Q & A ends here, 18 August 2009.

Now, thinking about this, it does seem that there are a lot of issues to consider and there is a danger of conflating the separate strands. So let’s separate some of them out. Firstly, the photo of Gray in the fetal postition, which was the most recently removed photo, doesn’t appear to show any body parts and I am reminded of Annie Liebovitz’s famous photograph for Rolling Stone, see article Beyond the Photo: John and Yoko, showing a naked John Lennon curled up in the fetal position lying on a bed with a fully clothed Yoko Ono. Surely if this photo was on Facebook (copyright restrictions permitting), there wouldn’t be a problem? Perhaps there is a copy of this image on a Lennon fan page somewhere on Facebook?

Some photos have been removed because you can see nipples. This is a different issue and, in the US  as I understand, women from pro-breast feeding groups demonstrated outside Facebook HQ over the removal of photos showing nipples in the context of breast feeding. One of their arguments is for equality in terms of freedom from censorship to show photos of nipples in specific contexts. See Time magazine article Facebook’s War on Nipples.

(An aside: There have been challenges to Facebook’s terms of service concerning protection of images, see Facebook’s got rights to your photos – for ever. However, this is a separate concern which requires its own debate.)

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2 responses to “Q&A with photographer Claudia Hehr about Facebook nude photo censorship on Breast Cancer Fan Page

  1. Pingback: Facebook responds (briefly) to censored Breast Cancer Fan Page photos « HotBlog: Fresh Perspectives on Contemporary Photography

  2. Pingback: Facebook Censorship « Censorship in America

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