Will the nipple be freed?

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The group tasked with overseeing decisions at Facebook and Instagram is suggesting that Meta, those social networks' parent company, take a long, hard look at its infamous rule banning the "female-presenting nipple."

In a statement, Meta's Oversight Board said its suggestion for revision of the nipple rule stems from the removal of two Instagram posts, dated 2021 and 2022, from an account run by a pair of transgender activists.

In both posts, which featured captions advocating for trans healthcare, the couple posed without shirts but had their nipples covered, the statement notes. The posts were flagged by users in spite of not overtly violating community standards and were removed by a content moderation algorithm, with Meta ultimately deciding that their removal was justified — a decision that the board has now overturned.

This reversal, the Oversight Board noted in its statement, was done in part because the notorious nipple rule is "based on a binary view of gender and a distinction between male and female bodies," and as such "makes it unclear how the rules apply to intersex, non-binary and transgender people, and requires reviewers to make rapid and subjective assessments of sex and gender, which is not practical when moderating content at scale."

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The, the board acknowledged, are "extensive and confusing" and "often convoluted and poorly defined," requiring bizarre, subjective content moderation assessments.

"In some contexts, for example, moderators must assess the extent and nature of visible scarring to determine whether certain exceptions apply," the statement notes. "The lack of clarity inherent in this policy creates uncertainty for users and reviewers, and makes it unworkable in practice."

Along with overturning the removal of the posts, the board advised the company to "define clear, objective, rights-respecting criteria" to its rules about nudity and sexuality bans — a directive that urges the company to have a serious think about whether these rules are serving users in "a manner consistent with international human rights standards, without discrimination on the basis of sex or gender."

It's unclear as of now whether this will be the beginning of the end of Facebook's infamous and decade-old "female-presenting nipple" policy, but it nevertheless feels like a step in the right direction for the company that's been mired with bad press over the last few years.

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