Instagram has made headlines once again for a perceived double standard when it comes to its guidelines on nudity.
On 11 August, US musician Tommy Lee posted a full frontal nude selfie to over one million followers. Genitals and all.
Instagram reportedly took up to five hours to remove Lee’s post. His account remains active.
Outraged, some took to Twitter to call out Meta. They weighed up the comparative time it takes Meta to censor women’s nipples, or remove posts and accounts from LGBTQIA+ users with far less nudity.
— BikzIsMe (@BikzIsMe) August 11, 2022
Tommy Lee’s dick pic was on Instagram for 5+ hours before being pulled yet queer artists get banned all the time for art that doesn’t even show genitalia
— Just Phil (@PhilAIV) August 11, 2022
French artist Caroline Lejeune has felt the sting of Meta’s inconsistent regulations.
At the start of August, she painted a bold mural called Breastralia in the inner Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, Victoria for infant accessories brand Tommee Tippee.
The 15-metre long painting of two women breastfeeding and pumping sat untouched by graffiti in real life. Online, a different story unfolded.
The day before Lee’s selfie went viral, Lejeune posted a reel of her artwork to Instagram.
View this post on Instagram
According to the artist, Instagram has since banned the post in a growing list of at least 50 countries, from Hungary to Greece. It also rejected paid ads behind the artwork.
In Australia, paid ad spend for Lejeune’s post was also denied.
“Through Tommee Tippee’s Breastralia mural, we wanted to highlight two important aspects of early motherhood,” Lejeune tells Marketing. “All feeding journeys are different. Feeding, or the depiction of feeding, should not be rooted in judgement or criticism.
“The banning of my video in tens of countries across the globe highlights the censorship of the female form, and why this mural is so important,” she adds.
To date, Tommee Tippee’s Breastralia posts are unaffected, and the company hasn’t yet attempted to pay for any ads using images of the mural.
It has had issues in the past, however. The company says Facebook previously rejected paid ad spend on an image of someone using a Tommee Tippee breast pump.
What do Instagram’s guidelines actually say?
Unlike Lee’s penis pic, Breastralia doesn’t violate any of Instagram’s guidelines.
Some images of female nipples are allowed on the feed. But it all depends on context.
“Photos in the context of breastfeeding, birth-giving and after-birth moments, health-related situations (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness or gender confirmation surgery) or an act of protest are allowed,” the guidelines say.
“Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK too.”
Should we expect better from Meta?
Expecting any kind of logic or reason in the application of Meta’s policies is setting yourself up for failure, says Taryn Williams, an entrepreneur in the tech start-up and media industry.
“For me, this is more a case of ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’,” Williams says in reference to Lee’s post.
“Should Instagram have removed the image of Tommy Lee’s genitalia immediately? Yes. Would as many people have ‘reported’ this image as they would have of an image of women breastfeeding showing nipples? Probably not.
“Add another, slightly darker lens to this. Which would have driven more traffic to the site, more engagement, seen more shares and thus time on platform. This equals advertising dollars.
“We need to expend less energy channelling anger at these behemoths who have an exponential number of problems managing censorship. Think of Christchurch massacre, the distribution of child pornography. Instead use that to focus on the underlying problem. How can we work on solving the gaping chasm between the rights and privileges afforded to men in society and those afforded to women, the LGBTQIA+ community and other minorities?”