The Victorian Women’s Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that supports women and girls through research and advocacy, has been banned by Facebook from advertising a tote bag for sale as part of a fundraising drive.
The bag features a picture of two nude women dancing and was created by the Melbourne artist Frances Cannon, who uses her work to promote self-esteem, positive body image and self-love.
The trust is selling the bag to raise funds to carry out its work but fears it will now lose money after it was banned from promoting the ad on Facebook and Instagram.
The trust’s manager of strategic communications, Allyson Oliver-Perham, said the trust depended on public donations to do its work.
“This bag was in no way meant to be controversial,” she told Guardian Australia. “Our work is centred around research and advocacy and in order to do that work we are dependent on donations and need to reach new audiences. This project was targeted towards younger women, who we are trying to inform about the work we do.
“I’m just dumbfounded by Facebook’s response to this. The artwork is supposed be really nice and positive, it depicts a celebration of women supporting each other, dancing and coming together. It fits in with the work of the artist, Frances Cannon, whose work promotes body positivity.”
A representative from Facebook told Oliver-Perham: “Your ad was not approved because it violates a number of Facebook’s ad policies.
“We don’t allow adverts that depict nudity, even if it isn’t sexual in nature. This includes the use of nudity for artistic or educational purposes. Adverts like these are sensitive in nature and hence are not allowed.”
Oliver-Perham tried to adhere to Facebook’s policy by using strategically placed emojis to cover up the nudity in the artwork. But Facebook did not accept the changes because the location of the emojis “imply nudity”.
“Such sexual images are not allowed,” the Facebook representative said.
Oliver-Perham said she was at a loss as to what to do.
“We’re just shocked,” she said. “We worked so hard to bring this bag into fruition and to use female artists and photographers. It’s been months of work. We had photographer Breeana Dunbar come in and take beautiful images of the bag so that we could promote it.
“The fact is that organisations need Facebook these days in order to reach new audiences. That’s just the way things are now.”
Facebook has previously attracted criticism for allowing photos and posts that depict violence against women while banning inoffensive images of female nudity.
In March, the social media giant blocked a promotion by the Melbourne art auction house Mossgreen for a work by the Australian artist Charles Blackman. The oil painting, Women Lovers, depicts two naked women at rest, a black cat next to them. At the time, Mossgreen said artworks it had promoted featuring naked men had not been censored.
Last year Facebook came under global criticism for censoring the famous image of Phan Thị Kim Phúc, then nine years old, running naked and screaming from a napalm attack during the Vietnam war, which had been shared by a Norwegian newspaper. It subsequently backtracked, after initially saying it was “difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others”.