While Coronavirus ravages the world, the leadership of the free world changes hands, and Europe is in the grip of serial Islamic terrorist attacks, the burning question this week is of course whether it was our own Celeste Barber or self-described ‘fat black’ British model and influencer Nyome Nicholas-Williams who really forced Instagram to alter its global policy on how a woman’s hand(s) should interact with her breast(s).
It’s all to do with the fingers. Straightened fingers – it’s ok. If, however, finger joints are curving in to the breast, especially if the breast flesh is indented, well that’s obviously pornographic.
After the allegedly racist-or-fattist-or-both Instagram algorithms identified pictures of Nyome Nicholas-Williams as violating its nudity rules, resulting in them being taken down, she objected: ‘Millions of pictures of very naked, skinny white women can be found on Instagram every day.
‘But a fat black woman celebrating her body is banned? It was shocking to me. I feel like I’m being silenced,’ (she said).
So she started a campaign along with her photographer (see, there is a link back to photography!) and a feminist activist, using the hashtag #IwanttoseeNyome, where some of her followers shared the censored photos.
In the end, social justice was the winner. While Instagram did not concede its algorithms were intrinsically racist or fat-shaming, it did accept that the application of the Instagram Breast Squeezing Policy – the very existence of which seems slightly surreal – needed tweaking.
Women are already allowed to post images of their breasts in certain contexts, provided the nipples are not visible. For men, nipples are out and proud.
‘We allow other images, including those depicting acts of protest, women actively engaged in breastfeeding and photos of post-mastectomy scarring,’ the Instagram community guidelines state.
‘We do not allow breast squeezing because it can be most commonly associated with pornography,’ an Instagram spokesperson told UK news outlet, The Observer, which has made the world a better place by courageously campaigning with Nyome Nicholas-Williams on the issue. ‘As we looked into this more closely, we realized it was an instance where our policy on breast squeezing wasn’t being correctly applied. Hearing Nyome’s feedback helped us understand where this policy was falling short, and how we could refine it.’
The new policy, which is now in force, liberates the (gently) cupped breast from the constricting brassiere of censorship: ‘From October 28, we will allow content where someone is simply hugging, cupping or holding their breasts. And, if there’s any doubt, we’ll ask that reviewers allow the content to stay up.
However, Instagram noted, ‘we do have to draw the line somewhere’ (Well, quite!): ‘When people squeeze their breasts in a grabbing motion with bent fingers, or if there is a clear change in the shape of the breasts, that content will still break our rules. This policy will apply across Instagram and Facebook.’
But that’s not important right now. It’s something else Nyome Nicholas-Williams said which rankles: ‘Black plus sized women continue to be censored in many ways; and white women STILL tried to hijack and make it their campaign.’
Who could she mean? Well it turns out that our own Celeste Barber, who does a great line in visual parody, also fell foul of the Instagram algorithms at around the same time in a pic taking the mickey out of a pose by Victoria’s Secret model Candice Swanepoel. Depending on what you read, Celeste Barber forced the change, which could explain the hijacking comment.
Her post compared and contrasted the Candice Swanepoel pic and her ‘homage’. While users could share the original Swanepoel pic, the parody post was blocked, with Instagram stating it breached community guidelines on nudity and sexual activity.
Barber protested on her Instagram account – which, by the way, has 7.6 million followers compared to Nyome Nicholas-Williams’ meagre 74,000 – and demanded answers from Instagram, which she duly received.
‘Hey Instagram, sort out your body-shaming standards, guys. It’s 2020. Catch up,’ she wrote.
Instagram’s local head of public policy Philip Chua said the incident shouldn’t have happened and the platform has ‘apologised directly to Celeste’ promising it would ‘update our breast covering policies very soon, to make sure all body types are treated fairly’ – but that these things take time to get right.