Facebook has been condemned for pulling pictures of an Italian Renaissance statue which it deemed “sexually explicit”.
The social network yanked a photograph of a nude bronze artwork depicting the Roman god Neptune, which has stood in the center of Bologna for the past 450 years.
Censors sprang into action after student Elisa Barbari tried to publish an image of the statue, which sits atop an elaborate fountain built by a master sculptor.
Screenshots she published show a warning message explaining that the image had to be banned as it was “esplicitamente sessuale” – explicitly sexual.
While it doesn’t go into detail, it is obvious that the site objects to Neptune’s penis being depicted, in the Classical tradition of heroic nudity.
The cover-up prompted outrage from Barbari, her friends, and the Italian press.
One, Lorenzo Bavieri, commented “Mamma Mia, I don’t believe it!”, while another added: “I suggest we report the Sistine Chapel, see what they do”.
The statue, by Renaissance sculptor Giambologna, was commissioned around the year 1560 by Catholic authorities in the city to celebrate the appointment of Pope Pius IV.
A spokesman said: “Our team processes millions of advertising images each week, and in some instances we incorrectly prohibit ads. This image does not violate our ad policies. We apologise for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ad.”
(It appears to consider the image an “ad” because Barbari had tried to use it as the cover photo for a local group she runs.)
Facebook’s attempts to police the images posted by users have run into trouble before.
The site was widely condemned for removing a photo of “Napalm girl” – the haunting image of naked Vietnamese girl Kim Phuc fleeing a US chemical weapon attack.
As the network encourages its users to publish more live video, it will likely struggle to avoid further double standards.
For example, last October Heat Street noted the site was censoring nipples but left footage of a man live-streaming his own suicide live for several days.