Facebook Oversight Board Says Nipple Moderation Can Hurt Women's Free Speech

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Facebook's "Supreme Court" has issued a landmark decision on free expression. On Thursday, the social media company's Oversight Board ruled that it was wrong to remove a Brazilian woman's Instagram post showing her uncovered breast. The woman did so as part of an international campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer.

According to key findings, "The incorrect removal of this post indicates the lack of proper human oversight which raises human rights concerns... As Facebook’s rules treat male and female nipples differently, using inaccurate automation to enforce these rules disproportionately affects women’s freedom of expression. Enforcement which relies solely on automation without adequate human oversight also interferes with freedom of expression."

The nipples decision is one of five cases published today. The others included a ruling with respect to the spreading of COVID-19 misinformation as well as a ruling regarding a hateful slur in the midst of an armed conflict. These are the first decisions from the Oversight Board, which was established last October to review content moderation decisions. Amid much talk by lawmakers about stripping tech companies of Section 230 protections, the hope by Mark Zuckberg's company is for more transparency. Recently, Facebook made news by referring its suspension of Donald Trump's account to this new board, dubbed as a "Supreme Court" by some.

While the issue of nipple treatment might not seem serious, those involved in decision making at Facebook have admitted spending a lot of time on the subject. "Free the nipple" has been a subject of vast protest by celebrities, artists, and others these past few years.

The Oversight Board recommends informing users when automated enforcement is used to moderate their content, ensure the ability to appeal, and revise Instagram’s Community Guidelines "to specify that female nipples can be shown to raise breast cancer awareness and clarify that where there are inconsistencies between Instagram’s Community Guidelines and Facebook’s Community Standards, the latter take precedence."

The full case can be read here.