A story from Alice G. Walton in Forbes:
Yesterday the powers that be at Facebook pulled down a post from Scientific American, linking to a news story from their sister publication Nature, one of the most highly regarded scientific publications around. The piece covered a well-executed new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – another of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals – looking at women’s preferences for male physical features, including penis length, height, and shoulder-to-hip ratio. The problem, apparently, was not the content of the piece, but the fact that it included an accompanying graphic showing computer-generated images of nude males. Facebook’s tight rules on nudity apparently don’t extend to science, although they do allow certain works of art and of breast-feeding.
Here’s a rundown of the study in question. The great penis debate has been unresolved ever since Masters and Johnson proclaimed, almost 50 years ago, that penis size does not matter to women. Science has come up with mixed results on this issue, and there seems not to be any public consensus on the matter either. The fact that human penis size is relatively large, compared to other primates, led the researchers to speculate that female preference may have driven its evolution.
Therefore, the researchers wanted to determine how penis size interacts with the two other physical variables, height and shoulder-to-hip ratio, to affect female ratings of attractiveness. The team presented over 100 Australian women with life-sized projections of computer-generated images of men with various dimensions; the women ranked how attractive each “e-man” was. As it turned out, increasing the size of each variable had an effect, but only up to a point, after which there were “diminishing returns” on all three. But height mattered as much to women as penis size. And interestingly, women’s “ideal” penis size was closer to the actual average of the population than was the case for height or shoulder-to-hip ratio, suggesting that women would prefer extreme height or shoulder-to-hip ratios than they would extreme penis length.
The researchers suggest a number of reasons that females might prefer longer penises, but say that “[r]egardless of the exact mechanism… our results show that female mate choice could have played a role in the evolution of the relatively large human male penis.”
Well done though it was, the study link from Scientific American was pulled by Facebook. At first Scientific American editors thought that a Facebook robot or algorithm had removed the study. Not so. It was an actual committee of human Facebook people who decided to remove the post. Here’s Scientific American’s recent Facebook post on the issue:
Facebook reached out to us to say that a committee of reviewers made the decision to delete our post about a research paper on penis sizes, not an algorithm. The issue was the graphic that accompanied the story, which showed computer-generated images of nude men. FB only makes narrow exceptions for nudity–you can post a photo of Michelangelo’s David, for instance.
Here’s Facebook’s full “Nudity and Pornography” Policy:
Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.
It seems peculiar, conceptually, that Facebook would allow works of art to be acceptable under the nudity policy, but not (computer-generated) images of science. I emailed Facebook for comments on what they feel would be at stake in allowing a link, and here’s what a representative told me:
Thanks for reaching out, one of the pictures in their article violated our nudity standards and was subsequently removed. We respond to reports on images and do not rely on an algorithm to identify this material.
Photographs that depict nudity, regardless of context, are against our Terms. This is because with over 1 billion people using Facebook we have to put in place a set of universal guidelines that respect the views of a wide range of people. These policies are designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe, secure and trusted environment for everyone on Facebook, especially minors who use our site.
Keep in mind, there is a great deal of complexity when applying policies that attempt to account for every single image across the spectrum of depiction of nudity. It is also important to note that we have no issue with the article itself, only the image included.
What do you think about this issue? Are we creating an even more prudish generation of youngsters by not allowing nudity-in-the-context-of-science to be shared via social media? Please share your thoughts below.