16/09/2014 09:00 BST | Updated 15/11/2014 05:59 GMT

Facebook Censors Women's Voices

By far the most "liked" image I ever shared on my Facebook wall contained 18 pairs of breasts. So far, no surprises there. You may be surprised however when I tell you that only a small minority - 9 percent of the "likes" - were from men.


I shared the image because for the first time, outside the horror of war zones, I felt emotionally moved at the sight of women's naked bodies. Since I am female and straight, it took me a few days to figure out why.

Award-winning photographer Laura Dodsworth, who is trained in journalism, spent two years asking women what the stories behind their bodies are. Then she published their words next to their images, in a Guardian article about her Kickstarter photography project.

My first thought on seeing the images was "oh no." My next sentence may sound angry and feminist, but bear with me: As a woman and former model, I am used to breasts -- mine and others -- being trussed up and sold for profit, like battery chickens at a supermarket.

My feelings, voice and story were rarely asked for; the value of my breasts, on the other hand, was often casually discussed. Because of this sexualised economy, other women's breasts became the competition.

Laura Dodsworth's work stopped this twisted view in its tracks. It's the vulnerability and honesty that makes her images unforgettable. Free of airbrushing and manipulation, her sensitively rendered work says: It's OK to be imperfect. You are valuable as you are. I want to hear what you have to say.

The figures bear up that this sadly novel message is cathartic to both men and women: after only 34 hours, Dodsworth's Kickstarter project reached 100% of its £10,900 goal. After six days it had doubled, and it still had 29 days to go. A third of the contributors are men.

In a matter of hours, the Guardian's article showed more than 9,500 Facebook 'likes' before Facebook censored it - for containing nipples which, at a fraction of a millimetre, were so tiny that they could be confused with smudges on the computer screen.


Facebook's nipple-homing software automatically blocks any pictures resembling naked female breasts, with messages warning users of "malicious" and "unsafe" content. After The Huffington Post made enquiries with Facebook, the block was removed. But not for long.

The following day, the article fell victim to the second guard of Facebook's "community standards": the "report this post" button. Someone who was unhappy about seeing very small nipples had clicked it, causing Facebook not only to stop all users from sharing the picture of tiny nipples, but also to go as far as freezing Dodsworth's account without warning.

Seemingly randomly, Facebook has concocted three exceptions to the nipple rule: naked breasts may be shown if they are male, if they are feeding babies, or if the owner had a mastectomy. "Breastfeeding is natural and beautiful", they fawned after a public outcry against the blocking of breastfeeding pictures.

Are we not to think that breasts are natural and beautiful even when they are not being used by others? Are pictures of two-millimetre breasts "malicious" and "unsafe", as the automatised messages say? Or is it simply that reality is judged as unsafe by people habituated to porn?

On the one hand Facebook freezes an award-winning artist's account for sharing a Guardian article; on the other, a feminist website who tagged the episode 'Breastgate' show how soft porn sites abound on Facebook. Despite an alleged "strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content" the truth is that porn is ok so long as there is a strip of thin material stretched over the nipple, and a G-string across the crotch.

For a moment I could enjoy the rarity of women's bodies having a real voice, but Facebook quickly saw to it that it's back to business as usual. Despite being one of the most influential social platforms in the world, it has yet to reach maturity. Unlike its grown-up members and rival platforms it stumbles clumsily around, watching porn and dismissing art, unable to clearly define and manage its own regulations.