Facebook removes photo of historic statue for violating nudity guidelines

Facebook is courting controversy once again regarding its censorship policies. Not even historic sculptures are safe from the company's muddled guidelines with the social network now targeting an image of a sixteenth century nude statue of Neptune.

Italian art historian and writer Elisa Barbari uploaded the photo of Neptune -- who can be seen atop his perch on the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna, Italy. However, when Barbari attempted to promote her Facebook page, the site objected to the photo, reports The Daily Telegraph.

"The use of the image was not approved because it violates Facebook's guide lines on advertising," Facebook told Barbari. "It presents an image with content that is explicitly sexual and which shows to an excessive degree the body, concentrating unnecessarily on body parts.

"The use of images or video of nude bodies or plunging necklines is not allowed, even if the use is for artistic or educational reasons."

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Whether it's a case of Facebook's machine learning object recognition software gone wrong or just another policy blunder on the company's part is as yet unknown. For now, it's safe to say that Barbari is not happy with the decision. Her Facebook cover image now includes the inscription: "Yes to Neptune, no to censorship." She adds in another post: "How can a work of art, our Neptune, be the subject of censorship?"

A symbol of Bologna, the Fountain of Neptune overlooks Piazza Maggiore: the main square in the heart of the Italian city. The statue itself was created in the 1560s by Flemish sculptor Jean de Boulogne (also known by his nickname Giambologna).The trident Neptune is brandishing was later adopted by Italian car manufacturer Maserati as its symbol.

It seems Facebook has learnt little from its past mistakes concerning censorship. In November, the site removed and then restored the photo of a Swedish fireman who suffered permanent facial scarring as the result of an explosion at an oil depot 35 years ago. Earlier in 2016, the company backtracked by reinstating an iconic Vietnam War photo after initially removing it and suspending the user who posted it. In both cases, a public backlash forced the company to apologize and alter its position.

Update: Facebook has said that its censorship of the Neptune image was a mistake, according to a Guardian report. In a statement, the social network apologized for the error and said that the image does not violate its ad policies.