Facebook suspended users who shared this photo of Ampilatwatja women. (Image by Chris Graham, At Large Media.)

Facebook's recent ban of posts which included an image of bare-breasted Indigenous women, flies in the face of its ongoing tolerance of sexualised photographs of women. John Passant reports.

CELESTE LIDDLE is a wonderful Arrernte woman and proud unionist, feminist and activist. She gave a great speech about feminism and Aboriginal women as part of International Women’s Day.

It was so good New Matilda, a progressive online daily magazine, published it. Because Celeste made reference in her talk about being banned from Facebook for sharing a photo of ‘topless desert women painted up for ceremony engaging in traditional dance’, New Matilda included a photo of Aboriginal women from the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja, performing at a public ceremony in 2010 to protest against the Northern Territory intervention (shown above).

Both Celeste and New Matilda were banned from Facebook for this image. The reason? Nudity was against Facebook’s community standards. A re-post I did of the article was removed for breaching those “standards” and I had to swear on seven bibles that my other photos also did not contain nudity. A change.org petition also contained the photo and Facebook removed this too.

ABC Radio’s lunchtime political show, The World Today, ran an account of the story. You can read the transcript here.

As Celeste says of the decision to ban her over a photo of traditional Aboriginal women:

Facebook’s standards are a joke. They are blatantly racist, sexist and offensive. They show a complete lack of respect for the oldest continuing culture in the world. They also show that Facebook continually fails to address their own shortfalls in knowledge.

Finally, they show that Facebook is more than willing to allow scurrilous bullying to continue rather than educate themselves.

Here is Facebook’s response:

We are aware that people sometimes share content containing nudity for reasons like awareness campaigns, artistic projects or cultural investigations.

The reason we restrict the display of nudity is because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content — particularly because of cultural background or age.

In order to treat people fairly and respond to reports quickly, it is essential that we have policies in place that our global teams can apply uniformly and easily when reviewing content.

As a result, our policies can sometimes be more blunt than we would like, and restrict content shared for legitimate purposes.

We encourage people to share Celeste Liddle’s speech on Facebook by simply removing the image before posting it.

Celeste has an answer:

Facebook’s standards are a joke. They are blatantly racist, sexist and offensive. They show a complete lack of respect for the oldest continuing culture in the world. They also show that Facebook continually fails to address their own shortfalls in knowledge.

Finally, they show that Facebook is more than willing to allow scurrilous bullying to continue rather than educate themselves.

This latter point refers to the fact it appears to be racist, misogynistic trolls reporting the photo that got Celeste banned.

I look forward to the right taking up Celeste’s case. George Brandis? Tim Wilson? Andrew Bolt? Their silence condemns these faux friends of “free speech”.

As an aside, the Facebook censorship of Celeste has got the rusty lawyer in me thinking. From the Australian Human Rights Commission website:

‘The High Court has held that an implied freedom of political communication exists as an indispensible part of the system of representative and responsible government created by the Constitution.’

However, it is probably not applicable to Facebook and those it censors:

‘It operates as a freedom from government restraint, rather than a right conferred directly on individuals.’

It is also against some of the various federal, state and territory human rights Acts to discriminate against a person because of their political views. Discrimination can be direct – ‘We don’t hire reds here” – or indirect. An indirect example was police height restrictions in recruitment. You had to be taller than five feet six inches. On its face it appears non-discriminatory but in practice it is. The height requirement mainly excluded women. So why isn’t Facebook’s blanket (but not always enforced) removal of nude pictures as applied to Celeste’s article, discriminatory on the basis of politics, gender and race?

Facebook’s community “standards” are the standards of rich white men who find women’s bodies offensive if they aren’t titillating them. The power Facebook has is overwhelming. This abuse of its power reflects the dominant ruling class paradigms of misogyny, racism and sexism. Facebook’s decision to censor a photo of traditional Aboriginal women and ban Celeste Liddle is Donald Trump writ small. Where is our Chicago in response?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Celeste Liddle's FB acount was banned and reinstated with four separate articles leading to bannings. As well, users who shared the "offensive" image above, were likewise banned and later reinstated. Read Celeste's statement on the bans here. You can sign the petition 'Facebook: Aboriginal women practicing culture are not offensive' here.

This story was originally published under the title, 'Facebook bans Aboriginal woman: Donald Trump writ small' on John Passant's website en Passant on 14 March 2016 and has been republished with permission. You can follow John on Twitter @JohnPassant.

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