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Facebook sorry over breast cancer ad ban

October 21, 2016

The social media platform had deleted a Swedish video that shows an animated woman checking her breasts, drawn as two circles. Facebook's removal and monitoring policies have recently come under fire several times.

Infovideo Swedish Cancer Society "Breast School"
Image: Youtube/Swedish Cancer Society

Facebook has done it again. The social media giant, notoriously prude when it comes to images that could be considered sexual, deleted a video by the Swedish Cancer Society this week. Facebook had deemed the video "offensive." The animated film uses pink circles to represent breasts and aims to teach women how to search for signs of breast cancer, said Sweden's Cancerfonden.

The 13-second video features an animated woman checking her breasts for lumps. Apparently, Facebook was put off by the pink circles representing the breasts and let the health organization know that it was violating advertising policies, which state that no sex products or adult services can be marketed on the social media platform.

On Thursday, Cancerfonden posted an open letter on its website to protest the decision.

"We understand that you have to have rules about the content published on your platform," an English translation published by Time Magazine reads.

"But you also must understand that one of our main tasks is to disseminate important information about cancer - in this case breast cancer."

An 'incomprehensible and strange' decision

Cancerfonden communications director Lena Biornstad also spoke out against the social media platform.

"We find it incomprehensible and strange how one can perceive medical information as offensive," Biornstad told the AFP news agency. "This is information that saves lives."

Facebook finally reacted late Thursday night, allowed the video's publication on the social media network and apologized for what they said was an accidental deletion.

"Our team processes millions of advertising images each week, and in some instances we incorrectly prohibit ads," the company said in a statement.

Iconic war photograph removed

It's not the first time Facebook has come under fire for banning what it deems sexual content. In September, the company removed an iconic photograph showing the horrors of the Vietnam War. In the image, children are running away from a Napalm attack. It was taken by photographer Nick Ut Cong Huynh for The Associated Press in 1972 and was honored with the Pulitzer Prize.

Streit um Bildlöschung auf Facebook
Many say the photograph shows the horrors of the Vietnam War better than any other imageImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/Nick Ut

Facebook had originally deleted the image as it was used by a Norwegian newspaper because one of the children is naked. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among those whose posts were removed. She accused Facebook of attempting "to edit our common history."

After public outcry following the deletion of the image, Facebook eventually backed down, just as they did with the breast cancer video.

"Because of its status as an iconic image of historical importance, the value of permitting sharing outweighs the value of protecting the community by removal, so we have decided to reinstate the image on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed," a Facebook rep wrote to AFP.

Not enough monitoring of extremists

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas also shared his opinion on the issue, saying that "illegal content should vanish from the internet, not photos that move the whole world."

He referred to the fact that politicians from Germany - and other countries - have long urged Facebook and other social networks like Twitter to crack down on hate speech and extremist content. Most recently, Germany has seen a rise of xenophobic posts and comments that instigate hate against the refugees entering the country.

Deutschland Debatte nach Merkels Regierungserklärung Volker Kauder CDU
Kauder wants to crack down on social networksImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Volker Kauder, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, suggested fining Facebook and other social media networks with a 50,000 euro ($54,435) fine each time they failed to remove offensive comments quickly.

"I've run out of patience," the conservative politician said.

In Great Britain, members of parliament released a statement in August saying that companies like Facebook, Google and YouTube aren't doing enough to monitor their services for extremist content. Such lax standards let terrorists use the networks for their purposes without being caught, according to the British Home Affairs Select Committee.