Facebook Apologizes for ‘Accidental’ Removal of Gay Photographer’s Artistic Nude Photo

A gay Los Angeles photographer’s picture of an amputee war veteran posing almost naked has been reinstated on Facebook after it was removed due to a supposed violation of the social network’s photo policies.

The controversy started earlier this week when photographer Michael Stokes’ photo of Marine Corps veteran Alex Minsky covering his groin with an athletic cup was removed from Stokes' Facebook wall. The photo was then shared by over 4,000 other Facebook users in protest thanks to a fan of Stokes, Frank Jones.

The photo was then removed from Jones’ wall as well, and subsequently the 4,000 others that shared it by Facebook.

Stokes told SFGN the initial reason he was given behind Facebook removing the photo was because it violated Facebook’s nudity ban.

Section 3.7 of Facebook’s terms state: “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”

Facebook’s community standards state that Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. It also states that Facebook imposes limitations on the display of nudity.

SFGN contacted Facebook to ask how Facebook defines nudity. A spokesperson said in an email that, “On background, exposed genitalia and female nipples are two examples.”

When Facebook was asked how Stokes’ photo was removed since there was no exposed genitalia, Facebook told SFGN in a statement: “The photo has been republished. This was an error and we apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused.”

Stokes believes the attention the controversy has received from the media and SFGN’s inquiry to Facebook may have prompted the reversal.

SFGN received the above statement at 9:47 a.m. PST on Tuesday, Feb. 26. It wasn’t until almost an hour later on the same day, at 10:25 a.m. PST, that Stokes received this message from Facebook saying they would reinstate the photograph and his suspended account:

We have restored or ceased disabling access to the content you identified in your recent counter-notification. If you do not see the content, it is possible we were unable to restore it due to technical limitations. In this case, you may re-upload the content at your discretion.

The above action is taken pursuant to section 512(g)(2)(C) of the DMCA. Please note that Facebook is not in a position to determine whether the content in question violates the rights of any third party.

“I never filed a counter notification,” Stokes told SFGN. “I never even reached out to Facebook after they pulled the image and I was banned.”

Stokes then received another email from Facebook at 10:39 a.m. PST from a person named Milo, identified as working for Facebook’s User Operations.

Stokes thought that it might be a prank, and emailed back to ask if the message was legitimate and if his account would really be restored.

“The apology was completely unsolicited,” Stokes said. “I didn’t know if I should believe it or not.”

With vague statements and definitions from Facebook, Stokes admits that this whole incident has made him wary about posting his photographs again, but said he’s content with the outcome.

“I'm surprised I got an unsolicited apology, but the apology is for removing the photo not for having blocked me for three days,” Stokes said. “I have asked them a couple questions but they do not respond.”

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