Facebook Bans Rubens Paintings Because of Nudity

There has always been a fine line between art and obscenity. Recently, the Hong Kong government has classified the new novel by famous Japanese writer Haruki Murakami as 'indecent'. While this decision is being sneered at by people online, the Belgium government and museums are protesting against Facebook’s ban on advertising Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens’ nude paintings.

Rubens’ Adam and Eve

Rubens’ The Judgement of Paris

The ‘victims’ of the incident are Flemish paintings. Back to the history of Flemish painting, Antwerp was the centre of Flemish Renaissance art. It includes modern day areas like Belgium, Luxembourg and Northeastern France. Flemish art was at its peak from the 15th to 17th century, blooming alongside artworks from the Dutch Golden Age.

Flemish artists such as Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) are considered influential masters. As most of their artworks surround topics like religion and myths, nude figures are commonly seen in their paintings.

Rubens’ Holy Family

The Rubens House Museum (former home and studio of Rubens)|Antwerp

The Rubens House Museum (former home and studio of Rubens)|Antwerp

Due to Facebook policy which bans all advertisement containing nudity, the Belgium government and museums have been facing some difficulties in promoting Flemish paintings, which are an important part of their cultural heritage. A recent video from the Flemish Tourist Board sarcastically criticises how absurd Facebook's policies are. The video has gained over 200,000 views in less than a week.

The video was filmed in the Rubens House Museum. Dressed in security guard outfits with the acronym ‘FBI’ (meaning Facebook inspector), staff in the museum asked visitors if they had social media accounts. Those who said ‘yes’ were banned from looking at any paintings with nudity ‘for their own protection’.

Screenshot from the video

Screenshot from the video

Screenshot from the video

Authorities of the museums in Belgium have written a letter to Mark Zuckerberg regarding the censorship of nudity on Facebook. Facebook users cannot promote any adult content, including all forms of nudity or sexual activity, no matter if they are artworks or for educational purposes.  

All contents featuring nude figures are tarred with the same brush by Facebook, which indeed makes censorship more efficient. It is easy for a computer to recognize obscene images yet it takes a lot for it to be able to distinguish between nudity under different depictions such as art, pornography and science.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO

We all understand the difficulties in recognizing different forms of nudity. However, Facebook, as a multibillion-dollar tech giant that allowed the leak of user information, should really provide us with a system that filters content more appropriately.