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Facebook apologizes for censoring prehistoric figurine

Dagmar Breitenbach
March 1, 2018

A 30,000-year-old statuette depicting a naked woman had been censored by Facebook. After labeling the famous Paleolithic Venus as "dangerously pornographic," the company is apologizing for its "mistake."

Venus of Willendorf  figurine
Image: picture-alliance/H.Fohringer

A Facebook spokesperson officially apologized on Thursday for the company's censorship of a post showing the voluptuous 11-centimeter 30,000-year-old statuette named the "Venus of Willendorf."

The controversy began in December when Laura Ghianda, an Italian arts activist, posted a picture of the artwork on Facebook. It went viral  and Facebook censored the photo. Ghianda was indignant, messaging that the "war on human culture and modern intellectualism will not be tolerated."

The Natural History Museum (NHM) in Vienna, where the figurine is on display, expressed its outrage on Wednesday. "An archaeological object, especially such an iconic one, should not be banned from Facebook because of 'nudity,' as no artwork should be," the Vienna museum declared in an official statement.  

"There has never been a complaint by visitors concerning the nakedness of the figurine," the museum's director Christian Köberl told press agency AFP.

The figurine, clearly a fertility symbol, was discovered in the Austrian village of Willendorf  thus the artwork's name  in the early 20th century. It is not only considered the "icon" of the museum, but the most well-known prehistoric depiction of a woman worldwide.

Read more: Facebook slammed for censoring German street artist

Facebook's apology came in reaction to the Viennese museum's statement and the ensuing public outrage. The company's spokesperson explained that Facebook's policies do not allow depictions of nudity or even suggested nudity. "However, we make an exception for statues, which is why the post should have been approved," she told AFP. 

Facebook is regularly criticized for banning certain content while allowing other controversial posts to be published.

A French court is to decide on March 15 on the case of a Facebook user whose account was shut down after he posted Gustave Courbet's "L'Origine du monde" (The Origin of the World), a 19th-century painting depicting a woman's genitals.