What is it about women’s bare nipples that gets social media platforms so riled up? In the past months countless images have been removed from Instagram and Facebook because of their inclusion of female nipples while shirtless men and graphic violence remain uncensored. And yet the double standard applied by anti-nipple community guidelines across social media hasn’t gone without backlash, leaving campaigns like Free the Nipple with newfound support.
Recently, bearing breasts has catalyzed a string of celebrity Instagram removals, starting with Rihanna in late April, who posted the image from her cover shoot for French magazine Lui, in which the singer wears nothing more than bikini bottoms and a bucket hat. Rihanna’s Insta-take-down was shortly followed by the deactivation of US Vogue’s photo editor, Grace Coddington’s, account after she posted a topless line-drawing promoting her curated sale of nudes on Paddle8. Most recently, Scout Willis had her account disabled after she posted an image of a jumper bearing the image of a naked woman. Willis took to the streets and Twitter (apparently the only nipple-friendly social media site) to contest Instagram’s censorship of the female body.
Facebook has a similarly stringent anti-nipple policy that allows female breasts to be displayed on their site, but only when suckled by an infant. In fact, Facebook is so keen to keep the nipple from appearing in the context of female sexuality, that if there isn’t direct nipple-baby contact the image will be removed. Alternatively, the site allows “graphic images” of animals as long as it’s “in the context of food processing or hunting as it occurs in nature”, bodily fluids — with the exception of semen — and deep flesh wounds/ crushed limbs and skulls.
Like Facebook and Instagram, Pinterest has a pretty buttoned up code of use in regards to nudity, but those restrictions also extend to violence, bullying and any type of representation of illegal activity. In contrast, Tumblr and Flickr utilize a filter system that allows users to select whether or not they are exposed to the “mature” content posted by other users. For whatever reason, no one is really posting their boobs on Google+, and the jury is still out on where LinkedIn falls on the nipple matrix.
However, the prevalence of social media nipple-censorship has inspired a series of creative responses pushing back against the stringent guidelines. For example, Micol Hebron posted a satirical “digital pastie” one can use to cover offending female nipples with a male nipple template to sneak those topless photos past image regulators.
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