Facebook blames artificial intelligence for mistakenly pulling the images, which do not violate their community standards. Moms say real people should be reviewing photos in question.

By Maressa Brown
September 25, 2019
Illustration by Parents Staff; Getty Images

For years, Facebook and Instagram have been under fire for removing photos that show women's nipples, particularly in the context of breastfeeding. The current policy is to "restrict some images of female breasts that include the nipple, we allow other images, including those depicting acts of protest, women actively engaged in breastfeeding, and photos of post-mastectomy scarring." Now, parents want to know why photos of their young boys, all of whom have long hair and were photographed shirtless, are being targeted by the social media sites.

A Florida mom named Tori Spooner, who has a 4-year-old son named Parker, recently spoke to BuzzFeed News about the eyebrow-raising situation. "We're at the beach all the time. He, like, never wears a shirt," Spooner said.

Spooner made an Instagram account for Parker when he was born, and these days, she documents his involvement in beach cleanups. In these images, Parker is shirtless in a bathing suit. About a year and a half ago, Facebook flagged a shot of Parker. "They sent it and said it was sexual and we weren’t allowed to have it. It was pretty much just a warning," she said. "Then, the second time it happened on Facebook, it banned me for a couple of days."

Soon, photos of Parker were being pulled from Instagram. Two weeks ago, his account, @parkersavesthesea, which had over 6K followers, was deleted. "They said my account was taken down because too many of the photos were flagged on Instagram," Spooner said. When Instagram failed to respond to her appeal, she started a new account, sharing a photo of Parker holding a sign that says, "Dear Instagram, I'm a boy. I just have long hair. Quit deleting my pictures!"

Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) both use artificial intelligence to flag and remove child nudity and images of exploitation. BuzzFeed notes that the company's guidelines forbid photos of genitalia and unclothed children above toddler age, and it also doesn't allow female nipples for anyone older than a toddler.

Yet, the lack of human involvement in the process means there's a lack of understanding about a post's context when photos like Parker's are pulled. That was made clear when a spokesperson for Facebook apologized for taking Parker's account down, telling BuzzFeed News, "This post was taken down in error and we are sorry for the mistake. We err on the side of protecting children and for safety reasons we remove some images that show nude or partially-nude children. Even when this content is shared with good intentions, it could be used by others in unanticipated ways."

Other moms have noticed the issue, as well, and are banding together with Spooner to raise awareness and take a stand, sharing photos of their sons holding signs like Parker's. "I originally just started it kind of for us, but so many other people were commenting saying they’d make a sign too, and it started spreading," Spooner told BuzzFeed.

After the press shed light on this issue, Instagram reinstated Parker's original account, but that's not going to cut it for Spooner and other moms who are rightfully frustrated. The Florida mom is calling for the company to enlist actual people—not AI—to review photos in question. She summarized to BuzzFeed the steps she wants Facebook to take: "Find a solution so we’re allowed to post our boys with long hair. Have somebody manually view them if they get flagged."

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