Facebook censored a ‘Waterboy’ GIF from their own GIF tool

Normally, logging into Facebook is an absent-minded activity. It’s practically become a reflex, something I do without much (if any) conscious thought involved.

Today was different.

When I logged into Facebook today, I was greeted by a warning that I had posted something inappropriate. I was shocked. I’m typically pretty paranoid about avoiding this, especially given how many friends and acquaintances have found themselves under fire for posting images involving women’s nipples, buttcracks, or the apparently scandalous act of wearing skimpy clothing while “fat”. The warning cited “nudity or sexual activity” and provided a link to the offending post.

The problem was apparently a GIF I’d posted in a comment thread. It was a GIF from the movie Waterboy, featuring Farmer Fran playing with his nipples during a climactic moment.

I just realized how funny the phrase “climactic moment” is when applied to this GIF.

Now here’s the real kicker: the offending GIF was provided by Facebook’s own GIF insertion tool.

The GIF originates on Tenor, one of the most well-known stockpiles of GIFs for use in social media. It is one of several services that Facebook uses to populate its GIF tool. It should be noted that a GIF existing on those services does not automatically mean it will show up in the GIFs available directly through Facebook’s built-in utility. There are plenty of GIFs on Tenor, and other applicable services, which do not show up under any search in Facebook’s silo of GIF responses.

So if there’s already some filtration involved, why would a GIF provided second-hand by Facebook itself cause Facebook to waggle its no-no finger at me condescendingly?

I’m sure someone flagged it, possibly as a joke; in fact, I think I recall someone commenting that they were doing so. I don’t know if they really did.

But even if that’s the case, why would Facebook go along with it and choose to chastise me? I suspect that it wasn’t fully automated, as the warning likely would have come more immediately if it was. This particular GIF was posted long enough ago that, while I vaguely recall posting it, I do not remember what status it was on or what the discussion was even about. I don’t even remember enough to go searching for it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s hilarious this is happening when the nipples involved are Farmer Fran’s. That this is happening at all feels like a real-life parody that I find just as amusing as the original shot in the movie, which is itself a parody of how media would typically portray women. This GIF being censored is a twist on the usual nipple double-standard of women’s nipples being censored while casually accepting the nipples of those society determines man enough to have appropriate nipple exposure. But does anyone think that censoring more nipples is the solution?

And again, this was a GIF that I would never have posted had Facebook not directly provided it to me with their own built-in feature. And while a warning isn’t a huge issue, it did have the frustrating side effect of disconnecting the various services I’ve connected to my account in order to help me manage my posts (especially professionally) and not get too sucked into the roiling, chaotic, all-consuming timesuck that social media has become.

It’s also a pretty freaking concerning issue in a time when there’s a lot of talk about free speech, censorship, and fake news. Especially when large companies like Facebook hold most of the keys to the kingdom, and they use that power in a bafflingly inconsistent manner. We’ve seen repeated instances of hate speech preserved while far more innocent pots, including responses to that aforementioned hate speech, are censored. Nipples, butts, and larger bodies are censored for being too lewd on platforms that still allow people to post violent views and agendas of hate. And unfortunate copyright decisions in Europe are only going to make things more complicated, not to mention frustrating, going forward.

Welcome to the future.

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