Facebook And The New Yorker Butt Heads


Facebook’s recent censorship of a cartoon featuring a woman’s nipples makes viewers question Facebook’s role in deciding which content is or isn’t inappropriate. (Photo Illustration Savannah Schechter/The Observer)

Recently, The New Yorker fan page on Facebook was temporarily banned for posting a cartoon article that shows a woman’s nipples. Mick Stevens’s cartoon depicts Adam and Eve sitting in the Garden of Eden. The caption reads, “Well, it was original.” Gawker reported that Facebook’s guidelines specify that it is not OK to show any obvious sexual activity, “even if naked parts are hidden from view by hands, clothes, or other objects.” These guidelines encompass not only real people but cartoons as well, and naked private parts cannot be shown in either case. Male nipples, however, are acceptable. As a result of this incident, The New Yorker reacted with an amusing article, saying that the redrawing of the cartoon with Adam and Eve in clothes took away the humor.

Clearly, The New Yorker did not obey the rules and in all likelihood, Facebook instituted the nudity ban because Americans do not appreciate nudity outside of movies that are accordingly rated. Unlike European nations, our country does not allow nipples and other private parts to be shown in commercials or on television with the exception of channels like HBO. Knowing this, it isn’t shocking that The New Yorker faced consequences for posting the cartoon.

But let’s look at why The New Yorker responded the way they did. Although Facebook set out a specific set of rules, The New Yorker obviously finds the rules to be absurd. Surely, The New Yorker did not appreciate having to ask the artist, Mick Stevens, to redo his cartoon so that it could go back on Facebook. Asking someone to alter their work to fit others’ principles is a violation of their artistic freedom.

Why is it ok for a social networking site, full of profane language and inappropriate pictures that do not even show nudity, allowed to ban a respected magazine’s comic when it makes a humorous statement? I see content that is much worse on Facebook, and I am sure I am not the only one. When you scroll down your newsfeed, sometimes you can find the weirdest photos popping up because your friends liked or shared them.

I think Facebook was being ridiculous. We have freedom of speech and expression and I believe Facebook is abusing their power to censor content. Granted, I certainly do not want to see naked people showing up on my newsfeed every day. But The New Yorker did not show real people. It was a drawing.

Facebook does not automatically ban someone for having profane language or insulting others on their webpages; people are only banned in these situations when they are reported. So how can Facebook ban a user for posting a harmless comic that shows a little nudity? Aside from nipples, no other private parts were shown; therefore, I do not find the comic to be inappropriate or crass. As The New Yorker said, the purpose was humor by way of ridicule and adding clothing took away the ridicule, making the cartoon practically meaningless.

I agree that no one should post real photographs of nudity, but a little nudity in cartoons from a magazine or newspaper should not be against the rules. I applaud The New Yorker for making jokes about the ridiculous ban, and I especially applaud Facebook, who later lifted the ban and apologized for it. I guess Facebook realized how absurd they were being.