Facebook's Censorship Algorithms are Going After the Gods Now

The Guardian
Seemingly unwilling to learn from past mistakes, Facebook's draconian, algorithm-based censorship system now has them going toe-to-toe with Olympus. In the Italian city of a Bologna, there's a Piazza named for the sea god Neptune, and in the middle there's a statue of him, carved in 1567 by famous Flemish sculptor Giambologna. It's one of the most famous statues in Bologna, so it makes sense that resident writer Elisa Barbari decided to use it as the cover photo for her Facebook page - “Stories, curiosities and views of Bologna.”

The photograph was promptly blocked by Facebook's censorship system, which claimed that it was "explicitly sexual". There's a crumb of truth to that, in that the mighty sea god's sexual organ is indeed fully on display, but the statement goes on to say that images which show "to an excessive degree the body, concentrating unnecessarily on body parts".

The argument that an image is showing too much flesh kind of falls through when the flesh is actually Bronze, and once again the blocking of the image has courted a flurry of criticism, spearheaded by Barbari herself. She pointed out that in the 50s the statue's genitals were covered when the piazza was used for school graduation ceremonies, and that maybe that's what Facebook was hankering after.

The response from the actual, human Facebook was as you would expect - 'we process loads of images', 'mistakes are made', 'sorry, I guess', words to that effect. Despite the controversy it invites, Facebook clearly have no intention of changing their system, and will continue to deal with things like this reactively, rather than proactively.

From a certain point of view, you can understand why. The amount of data that needs to processed on the site day-to-day is far too vast to be handled by actual staff, but it begs the question, exactly how many images and videos get blacklisted on a daily basis? One assumes it has to be a lot, otherwise they would have some sort of checking system in place to make sure that the system isn't picking up the wrong things. Supposedly, as of October, the system won't censor things deemed newsworthy, in the public interest or otherwise significant. Clearly all the kinks haven't been worked out.

As amusing as it is when something like this happens, the real issue with Facebook's censorship is the imbalance between what's alright and what isn't. It's one thing for the system to mistakenly take down a photo of a famous statue, but it's quite another when photos of women breastfeeding their babies get taken down.

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