Opinion | Nationalise Facebook, now!

Last Tuesday, I was cited in an article in Berlingske about the legendary 1973 sexual education book for children, ‘Elle-Belle-Bolle’. My own role in the story is that the theatre I run, Mungo Park Kolding, will be staging a play based on the book. The point of the play is to resurrect the book’s original goal of taking the taboo out of sex, reproduction and love.

Given that we want people to be more open-minded about sex, it should come as little surprise that I was utterly bewildered by the ‘boob alarm’ as it reverberated throughout everyone’s favourite social media platform. Just as I was about to share the article that I was quoted in on the theatre’s Facebook page, the news that they had temporarily shut down Berlingske’s page trickled in. The 40-year-old picture entitled – and showing – “Mom and dad ‘doing it’” used as the promotional image violated Facebook’s strict picture policy.

(A reference to Berlingske’s suspension that included the picture in question later landed The Copenhagen Post an unplanned, 24-hour Facebook time-out as well.)

SEE RELATED: More Danish content censored by Facebook

The thought of being banned from Facebook stopped me mid-click, thus ending any chance the article could go viral. Instead I was left pondering over the obvious paradox as it sank in that even as we celebrate the book’s anniversary, we must accept that its original goal remains unattained – at least as far as Facebook is concerned.

Facebook is our shared town square, our hangout, the place where we exchange gossip. It is the soapbox for the masses and for that reason we find it deeply disturbing that we can’t decide for ourselves how we should be allowed to communicate.

‘Elle-Belle-Bolle’ and the other instances in which Facebook gave someone the boot for showing a woman’s breasts – such as author Peter Øvig Knudsen’s book that featured pictures of naked hippies – all come down to a case of the misunderstood modesty that ‘Elle-Belle-Bolle’s’ authors were trying to put an end to.

Back then, their target was the modesty of the middle class. Today, we find our free spirit limited by market forces and a privately run company that has had the enviable fortune of being able to lay claim to our shared town square. Herein lies the problem. It is unacceptable that a private firm owns our public space. It’s scandalous. Facebook isn’t evil. Facebook is just good at what it does, which is why there is no good explanation for not accepting their rules. We could just not use Facebook.

Facebook underscores that it isn’t algorithms but humans who make the final decision about whether to censor. But, this is precisely why I’m at such a loss about their inability to see the broader context when pictures of breasts get posted. 

It’s fair that Facebook doesn’t want me to be exposed to pornography against my will. But, what isn’t fair is that all nudity is made taboo. Is it right that I can only find information about hippies if they are clothed? Or that I can’t share images that are to help my children learn more about one of the fundamental aspects of human relations? What about ‘Venus on the Half-Shell’ or other works of art? Where do we draw the line? 

Facebook is well within its rights to set rules for what we can and can’t post. But the kind of black-and-white censorship that fails to consider context as well as content is a symptom of a deeper problem the social network faces. Instead of being praised, the natural is rejected for the artificial. 

It is unacceptable that a private firm owns our public space. I propose possible ways for taking care of the situation; either the people take over the public space, or Facebook just gets better at editing our posts. 

The author is the head of Mungo Park Kolding theatre