Are Facebook Friendly Squares Necessary?

by Reid Singer on September 15, 2011 · 4 comments Opinion

Self-censored Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe (1982) © Fotografiska

What does Facebook have in common with a late-80s Cincinatti Department of Decency? Apparently, they both have a problem with the work of Robert Mapplethorpe. Earlier today, The Art Newspaper reported that the Swedish photography museum Fotografiska is censoring their own page by covering bits of nudity in pictures promoting an exhibition of work by Mapplethorpe with labels reading “Facebook-friendly square.” It’s worth mentioning that the graphic echoes the colors and lettering of Facebooks own logo, and a spokesperson from the museum says that they are meant–at least in part–to “trigger a debate.”

As a matter of policy, Facebook prohibits content that is “hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence,” presumably because they’d rather not see their site used as a tool to hurt or offend. This, of course, is the same site that allows groups like “Brick or Bang” and “Riding Your Girlfriend Softly Cause You Don’t Want to Wake Her Up” to operate freely. While policies against hate speech prohibit this publication from having a Facebook page, they somehow didn’t stop a Facebook group for “International Burn a Koran Day” from forming (though to be fair, pages with the names “‘International Burn A Koran Day’ is a symbol of hate” and “We Hate The Persons Who Has Made the Page Every Body Burn Quran Day” are up there, too).

This isn’t exactly splitting hairs. Silly at best, Facebook’s policy on offensive content is being enforced with little regard to consistency or common sense, and Fotografiska is right to draw attention to it. It doesn’t bother me a bit that their act of satire will bring all the more attention to an exhibition of work by a photographer whose work has been subject to arbitrary, outdated notions of decency in the past. Readers interested in seeing groups that promote violence against women being taken down can sign a petition on


Erik Peterson September 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm

The real problem with Facebook’s policy on offensive content is that it is driven by user “flags”. At one point I had a profile picture that depicted me wearing a keffiyeh in the over the face style preferred by Sinai nomads (it was a joke for my sister’s benefit), and a user reported the image as “threatening”. Facebook’s policy is to shoot first and ask questions later, so the image was removed and I was warned that my account would be deleted if it happened again. Users visiting this gallery’s page are unlikely to be of the type that would find Mapplethorpe’s work offensive or flag it as such. However, pages for national/regional museums and globally popular artists may be visited by folks who find such work offensive, and will flag it as such. Facebook, as a popular platform for networking for artists (particularly photographers), needs to re-craft its policy so that page owners for arts based topics can post content freely, and possibly restrict the visibility of their content to those whose age meets a legal requirement.

Jana DesForges September 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Ha. I just tried to link your post to my FB page, “Nipple Liberation Front” and it won’t let me!

Reid September 20, 2011 at 7:28 pm


Brian Sherwin September 22, 2011 at 7:44 am

Jana… not so sure it is FB blocking you from posting it. I’ve had trouble posting links on my Wall and page within the last few days. Oddly enough, I can post links on Facebook art groups. From what I’ve gathered FB is once again making some design/feature changes.

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