Welcome, is this your first visit to The Hopkinson Report? START HERE Weclome Arrow

Did the November cover of WIRED Magazine get removed by Facebook due to inappropriate content? We still don’t know for sure.

Download the podcast from iTunes, or play it below:


I received an interesting message from Facebook recently.

First, it was an e-mail to my Yahoo account, which is connected to Facebook. It was so generic that I had to scour it pretty closely to make sure it wasn’t spam.  Then a day later, I was greeted with a popup message within Facebook with the same message to makes sure I saw it, forcing me to X out the dialog box to make it disappear. It said the following:

‘You uploaded a photo that violates our Terms of Use, and this photo has been removed. Facebook does not allow photos that attack an individual or group, or that contain nudity, drug use, violence, or other violations of the Terms of Use. These policies are designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe, secure and trusted environment for all users, including the many children who use the site.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page.”

Wow, Jim, you might be asking. What the heck did you upload?

The answer?


The reason for this, is that Facebook does not give you any identifying information whatsoever about the content:

– They don’t tell you when you uploaded the photo or when it was removed
– They don’t tell you if someone complained about the photo
– And most importantly, they don’t tell you or show you which photo is the one that caused the problem!

From their FAQ:
Q: Can I see the removed content?
A: Unfortunately, for technical and security reasons, users cannot view the removed content. Please go through your profile and make sure to take down any other offensive or objectionable material that violates our Terms of Use.

This is a problem for many reasons.

1) I have about 200 photos uploaded on my account.
I’m sure some have far less, but I know many people with far more. The timing of the e-mail seemed random. If I had sat down and uploaded 25 spring break photos on a weekend and received this e-mail on a Monday, I guess I’d have a clue from which batch of photos caused the problem.

But since it’s been about 20 years since I’ve been on spring break, and since I’m not 20 years old, I know enough not to upload anything too inappropriate.

2) I was thinking that it might have been a photo someone else had uploaded.
So I went through my recent albums to see if I had been tagged in any photos that could be construed as inappropriate for any reason. My fraternity days have long passed, but you never know when a nostalgic buddy figures out how to use a scanner and uploads a few prints from the days of yore.

3) I thought it might be more likely that it was a copyright issue, not nudity or violence.
Sometimes you don’t think about it too much when you upload a photo, and I thought immediately of the picture with myself posing with an enlarged Wired Magazine cover with Brad Pitt on it. Or when I snagged a picture of Landon Donovan off the web and used it as my profile picture after he scored his dramatic goal in the World Cup. Was USA Soccer issueing take-down notices all of a sudden? Or maybe it was my buddy’s Halloween costume, dressed as Quagmire from Family guy. Nope, those were still there.

So I had to move to my fourth option.
4) What if it wasn’t even from my personal account?
I am in charge of the Wired Facebook page, and am listed as an admin on that as well as a few other Conde Nast Digital pages. This allows me to update the page multiple times a day, interact with fans, and download analytics.

And so that’s what I decided it had to be:
The November Wired Magazine cover.

Wired’s current issue’s top story was:

‘!00% Natural. Who needs implants? How tissue engineering will radically enhance the future of medicine.’

And on the cover, garnering lots of media attention was a photo of a topless woman, zoomed in on the cleavage.

As is our custom, I had uploaded the magazine cover of the month to Wired’s Facebook wall (this month it was on Nov 2), and designated it as our Facebook profile photo. This in turn makes the cover our default icon, which means it is seen not only on our wall, but also within the streams of the 150,000+ users that ‘like’ us.

The original post garnered 52 comments, a bit more than normal, and 187 likes. There were commenters on both sides of the argument – degrading, gratuitous promotion of women vs. highlighting a science story that people were overreacting to – but the dialog was civil.

Interestingly, this spawned another discussion along the lines of ‘Where are all the women in tech and why doesn’t Wired feature them on the cover?’ I won’t go into this topic here, because it was covered nicely during a special online chat on Poynter.org by:

Cindy Royal, who criticized the magazine for featuring a cover image of a woman’s cleavage for a story about breast tissue regeneration.

Rachel Sklar, editor at large at Mediate, started a Tumblr blog, “Change the Ratio,” dedicated to increasing the number of women in technology.

Wired Senior Editor Nancy Miller, who edited the tissue regeneration article and chose the cover image

Here, too, the conversation and comments were very well done, but I’m positive that as the image worked its way across the Facebook stream of many users, it picked up more than it’s share of flags for being inappropriate.

The thing that confused me was this:

The main profile photo of the cover, as well as the thumbnail, was still visible!

However, it had been deleted from our profile picture photo gallery. So there seems to be a potential loophole, although I can’t verify, that Facebook can remove a photo from a gallery, but not change your profile picture. I guess we’ll find out if it is gone for good when I swap in the December cover.

Some online research showed that I was not alone in my confusion. For some users online, the next step after having a photo removed was having their account shut down.

I came across a very nervous wedding photographer and small business owner that warned his readers that your online presence can be taken away instantly for reasons you can’t know, and it was only because he had an ‘in’ at the company that he got an email reply and was reinstated.

Taking Facebook’s side
It can’t be easy to patrol 500 million users uploading and sharing more than 30 billion pieces of content such as photos every month. I’m sure they have algorithms that are doing the majority of the work automatically, and algorithm probably aren’t always perfect in determining the difference between an inappropriate photo of a female flashing in a white dress, and a tastefully done moment of a bride trying on her grandmother’s gown before her wedding.

My main point is that it would be helpful to users to know which photo tripped up Facebook’s terms of service so that it could be avoided in the future. Because to be honest, after all this, I still don’t know if it was the Wired cover that is causing the problem.

Otherwise, it’s a catch-22. They tell you not to upload inappropriate content, but you can’t know what not to upload if they don’t tell you.

It brought to mind three scenarios:

First – and I better not get in trouble for this – is the man that comes home to his girlfriend or wife and she’s steaming mad. He asks her, ‘Honey, what’s wrong? Are you angry?’  And her response is, ‘You bet I’m mad… it’s because of something you did, and you know what it is!’

Hint for the young guys out there: If you don’t know what it is, do NOT start guessing.

Second, is in the old days, when they put you in jail if you owed people too much money. How did you get out of jail? Easy… as soon as you had worked and paid off all your debts, you were free to go!

And lastly, there were the witch trials. How do you know if someone is a witch? Well, the accused witch would be tied up and thrown into a body of water and if she floated, then she was a witch and had to be killed. And if she sank to the bottom she was innocent.

Unless you’re Monty Python. Then it’s a little more complicated:

Speaking of the Wired Facebook page, join 150,000 other fans at Facebook.com/wired.
Have a great thanksgiving everyone.

Comments Closed

Comments are closed.