A few days ago, while scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, I came across an article that I found troubling. It was titled “Facebook Censors Caravaggio’s Nude Cupid, Then Changes Mind.” It was published on Artnet News. A synopsis of the article is as follows: Art aficionado and Facebook user Hamilton Moura Filho’s Facebook account was briefly suspended after he posted an image of Caravaggio’s “The Victorious Cupid (Amor Vincit Omnia).” Facebook informed Filho that because the painting portrays a nude male with his legs splayed, it violated Facebook Community Standards and thus the image was censored. The article goes on further to reveal that Facebook has faced consistent backlash for its repeated censorship of art that depicts nude figures. This article left me enraged and empowered to write about my thoughts regarding the ridiculous fact that social media platforms like Facebook would censor any image of any work of art, or better yet, anything at all.
A primary reason as to why this particular act of censorship frustrates me is because of the fact that art images serve as a platform for the spread of knowledge. Any image of art that a Facebook user posts can become a site for discussion about that work of art. There are also many leading figures in the art world that have Facebook accounts and use social media as a way in which to spread awareness of art and to open up spaces for discussion—on a global scale! I wholeheartedly believe that the censorship of art that portrays nudity is an act that is detrimental to the spread of understanding art. When I shared my thoughts with Dominic Demeterfi ’20, he expressed, “I think that Facebook’s censorship policy towards nudity is asinine because it disguises censorship as protection … They need to be striving to provide a platform for uncensored free speech.”
Before going on any further, here is an excerpt taken from Facebook’s Community Standards on the subject of nudity: “We restrict the display of nudity because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content–particularly because of their cultural background or age … We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks … We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures.” What strikes me after reading this and reminding myself of the censorship of “Cupid” is that Facebook took down an image of a painting because of its portrayal of nudity while its own Community Standards state that it allows photographs of art that depicts nude figures. It is not right that Facebook gets to make a distinction between art as either portraying something properly nude or improperly nude (aka censorship-worthy). And on the subject of Facebook claiming that it bans nudity because of the cultural background or age of other Facebook users in the world, I am also left troubled. The nudity of “Cupid” does not aim to be erotic or sexually provocative. On the other hand, many Facebook users take and post photos and videos of people that are clothed, but clothed in a way that is revealing and hypersexual. All I am trying to say here is that if Facebook truly does care about maintaining the integrity of the sensitivities of a user’s cultural background or age, it should be reminded that Facebook users are subject to images and videos of many sexualized people.
I pointed this out to Sylvia Foster ’19 and she responded, “I find it disturbing that Facebook’s censorship of this particular image, which depicts an idealized body of a prepubescent boy, supports the sexualization and vulgarization of an ‘underage’ body.” I couldn’t agree more. By overlooking Caravaggio’s “Cupid” and subjecting it to the category of censor-worthy nude art, the painting is debased and art is misunderstood. I recall the day I sat in Taylor Hall for Art 106 when Professor Yvonne Elet lectured on Caravaggio’s “The Victorious Cupid (Amor Vincit Omnia).” It is a painting inspired by Virgil, Donatello and so much more. This is a painting but also a masterpiece that transcends vulgarity and corporeal pleasures. This painting is about Love. Facebook’s censorship of it was disrespectful and wrong. Facebook needs to rethink its views on nudity and censorship.
It is important to point out that social media platforms are not platforms for free speech. Not only are paintings being censored by Facebook, but so is political speech. Furthermore, Facebook allows much more offensive or triggering content than the nudity of a classically rendered Cupid. For example, I, along with many other Facebook users, come across violent words, images and videos fueled by hate and oppression. I shared my thoughts with Elias Contrubis ’20 and he asked, “Why is a painting depicting love and innocence censored while graphic videos of street fights are readily available? Why is a classical masterpiece, an integral part of education in art, censored while a violent youth culture grows?” If we are all susceptible to being confronted by a racist video or status update on Facebook, I think we need to reconsider the censorship of nude art, since it is undoubtedly a more pleasant experience to admire images crafted with talent than to read posts or watch scenes revering hate-filled political rhetoric.