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Facebook's removal of questionable photos is the right move

A professional photographer complains when Facebook removes some photos of her daughter that the site says might be in violation of its guidelines.

September 07, 2012|David Lazarus
  • This photo showing photographer Aimee Boschet's 8-year-old daughter clothed in a full-length gown, standing beside a bird cage, was deemed objectionable by a visitor to Boschet's Facebook page.
This photo showing photographer Aimee Boschet's 8-year-old daughter… (Aimee Boschet )

Like many small-business owners, Los Angeles photographer Aimee Boschet uses Facebook as her virtual storefront. She posts her work there and connects with clients.

So it came as a shock to Boschet when Facebook decided recently to remove several photos of her 8-year-old daughter because they were deemed objectionable. She was also blocked from posting new photos on the site.

"All they said was that I might be in violation of their guidelines," Boschet, 39, told me. "But these photos aren't pornographic. They're art. I'm a professional photographer. And we're talking about my own daughter."

When I first encountered Boschet's story, it looked like a cautionary tale about how the Internet gods give and, sometimes capriciously, take away. I saw it as a reminder that in the age of social media such as Facebook and Yelp, all it takes is a single disgruntled stranger to bring a small business to its knees.

After taking a closer look — and getting Facebook's side of things — I've decided that the website acted appropriately.

"When it comes to children, we have a different standard than we do for adults," said Fred Wolens, a Facebook spokesman. "If there's even implied nudity, we'll treat it as nudity."

And the site's policy on nudity is clear. "There's no nudity allowed," Wolens said. "Period."

In Boschet's defense, most of her work doesn't cross this line. Moreover, she said the questionable photos had been on Facebook for more than a year before they drew objections from a single viewer.

A woman, apparently living in Italy, posted a message on Boschet's Facebook page saying that while she found the photos beautiful, they were also "perverse." The woman flagged them to Facebook as material that shouldn't be on the site.

"I had no idea who this woman was," Boschet said. "I don't even know how she found my work."

The woman didn't respond to my emails for comment.

In any case, it didn't take long for Facebook to begin systematically removing the flagged photos from the site. In each case, Boschet was notified that she had to log in again, and each time another photo was gone.

OK, let's pause here to ask the obvious question: Could a reasonable person view Boschet's photos as child pornography?

You can see them yourself by visiting Boschet's personal website at http://www.aimeeboschet.com. Click the link to the "ethereal" collection.

The main photo that got the Italian woman going was one Boschet had titled "Fallen Angel." It shows her daughter lying on her back with white wings spread out behind her. She's topless, but her hands are crossed across her chest. The girl, shown from waist up, gazes wistfully into the distance.

Boschet's daughter is fully clothed in most of the other shots, except for one that shows her seemingly naked from behind, holding a rose to her back.

"I would never pose my daughter doing anything wrong," Boschet said. "Half the time, she comes up with the pose herself. We have fun doing it together."

I spoke briefly with Boschet's daughter and asked what she thought of her mom's work. She said the photos were "really cool." She said she felt like she was being an actress as she tried different poses.

It's the old conundrum: Is it art or is it obscene? In this case, I'll go with art. Seen in their entirety, Boschet's photos of her daughter have no salacious intent. They're depictions of mood and, I think, melancholy.

But not everyone might see them that way, particularly the ones that involve, as Facebook put it, "implied nudity."

Facebook has nearly 1 billion active users worldwide. I'm sure most of them are fine, upstanding people. But some may be creeps.

The site's no-nudity rule is a good one. Any community with millions of members as young as 13 has a responsibility to maintain certain standards of decorum. If you want nudity, there are plenty of places online to find it. Facebook isn't one of them.

The company says in its terms of service that "you will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence."

And I agree with Facebook's reasoning that any time kids are concerned, the site should err on the side of caution.

"This is one of the things we care about most," Wolens said. "The site has to be safe for everyone."

Where does that leave someone like Boschet? I think it leaves her with a need to be more aware of the digital playground's rules.

Boschet told me that after Facebook removed her photos, she was blocked from posting others for 24 hours. After a day passed, she said, she put up another picture of her daughter, one showing her clothed in a full-length gown, standing beside a bird cage.

The woman in Italy apparently found this troubling as well, seeing a come-hither look in the girl's eyes. Facebook was once again notified.

Boschet, in turn, was told she wouldn't be allowed to post additional photos for a temporary period while Facebook took a closer look at things.

At this point, Boschet said, the site blocked her from accessing her own pages. Facebook says Boschet deactivated her pages herself.

Whatever the case, the lesson here is to be mindful of what you post online. Facebook, when made aware of possibly problematic material, won't hesitate to lower the boom if kids are involved.

That's the correct stand. And Boschet, who is a talented photographer, should appreciate that.

She may see all the photos of her daughter as artistic. But not everyone might. And Facebook is doing her a favor by keeping certain people as far from her daughter as possible.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He can also be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @LATlazarus. Send tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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