Facebook Censors a Haitian Cultural Foundation

by

09/13/2020

Neighborhood: Featured, Flatbush

Elisabeth Moscoso Piquion Untitled 2002
Photo: Toussaint Louverture Cultural Foundation  


In a disheartening example of its bizarre and arbitrary standards, Facebook is censoring Haitian art.

This summer Facebook Ads rejected a painting by Haitian artist Elisabeth Moscoso Piquion, that appears on the Artist of the Week webpage of the Toussaint Louverture Cultural Foundation, labeling it “Adult Content” for “depicting excessive skin or nudity”.

The Foundation is a Brooklyn based not-for-profit organization whose main focus is Haitian art. With generous donations from artists, it has assembled the Save A Museum Art Collection that raises funds for the repair of the Musée d’Art Haitien in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which was damaged by the 2010 earthquake.

I am in charge of the Foundation’s web  site (www.ToussaintLouvertureFoundation.org), including its presence on social media. Our funds are small and our budget for Facebook Ads is minuscule. The most we have spent on an advertisement is $10.00. We do so for events we organize or participate in, such as book signing or art exhibits. Once in a while, we also submit an ad for our recurring “Artist of the Week” post, which showcases artists from the Save A Museum collection.

The focus of the rejected ad was not the Moscoso Piquion’s painting but Guy Syllien’s Loud Silence.  Clicking on the picture took you to the Foundation’s Artist of the Week page where the Moscoso Piquion’s painting is just one of many.

Facebook rejected the ad for depicting excessive nudity and requested that we remove the image.

Clicking on See Details took me to Facebook’s Adult Content policy. Its section on Sexually Explicit Content has examples of what is allowed and what is not.  The example of what is acceptable is a full-body frontal picture of Michelangelo’s nude statue of David.  Did I need another proof that my ad wasn’t violating Facebook standards?

I clicked on the Request Review button that appeared in the rejection message thinking that the ad would be taken through a different, more thorough process. But it was promptly rejected, for the same reason, with the same message.

My first thought was that the post had gone through an algorithm that didn’t recognize artwork. I remembered a debate over Gustave Courbet The Origin of the World and Facebook having decided to make exceptions for art. In 2018, an advertisement by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts had been rejected because it showed a picture of Pablo Picasso’s Femmes à la toilette where women’s breasts are depicted. Eventually the museum had convinced Facebook to allow the ad to run.

I decided to take my case directly to Facebook but there was no public telephone number to call, and the question I submitted on their Help Community page wasn’t answered.  I eventually found my way to the Facebook Business Help Center where a Messenger chat can be initiated with its “Concierge Support Team.”  Members of that team were polite but indifferent to my argument that the ad wasn’t violating their Community Standards. Here are the explanations I received:

 

Should the Toussaint Louverture Cultural Foundation remove the image of the Moscoso Piquion painting from its website? Then it should also remove Gérard Fortuné’s Untitled as well as several others. Should the Foundation censor artists who generously donated artwork for the repair of the Haitian museum when they don’t violate Facebook’s Sexually Explicit Content criteria?


Gérard Fortuné Untitled 2005
Photo Toussaint Louverture Cultural Foundation    


Emails from Facebook support contained the same sentences, word for word, and the same links, as the Messenger chats.  It might have been a person typing the chat messages but they felt as robotic as the initial rejections. It gave me the impression that no one had looked at the artwork and compared it to Facebook’s published standards and that no attention was given to the Foundation’s purposes and its focus on art.

The Concierge Support Team last words to me were: “the decision to have the ads disapproved now stands and is final.”

 Facebook is not applying its own Adult Content rules fairly and our small not-for-profit organization that focuses on art amid raising funds for a Haitian museum damaged by the 2010 earthquake, is suffering the consequences.

***

Claudine Corbanese is a volunteer at the Toussaint Louverture Cultural Foundation (www.ToussaintLouvertureFoundation.org) She in charge of its website and of its presence on social media.

 

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