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Facebook Banned A Breast Cancer Nonprofit's Ad Campaign For Violating Nudity Rules

The platform allows users to post mastectomy scar photos, but has much stricter laws for advertisers.

Posted on May 3, 2019, at 12:01 p.m. ET

Breast Cancer Network Australia

Facebook is coming under fire for banning an Australian breast cancer nonprofit's ad campaign, saying it violates their nudity rules.

Run by the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA), the ads feature topless photos of breast cancer survivors in which they're covering themselves with baked goods.

The campaign is a partnership with Australian bakery chain Bakers Delight, and all proceeds for sales of "Pink Fun Buns" will go to the nonprofit. Last year, the efforts raised $1.6 million.

The ads, some of which feature postmastectomy scars, were "specifically designed to draw attention to the disease that affects more than 19,000 people every year," BCNA said.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who spoke to BCNA CEO Kirsten Pilatti, the ads were approved last month but Facebook changed its mind and rejected them at the last minute.

"The opening days of the campaign are where we raise the most money for BCNA to ensure we can provide free resources to those people with breast cancer," Pilatti said. "Facebook is a very important tool for us to promote the campaign."

Breast Cancer Network Australia

Facebook users are mostly prohibited from posting images of breasts that include the nipple, but the policy has "become more nuanced over time," now allowing images "depicting acts of protest, women actively engaged in breast-feeding, and photos of post-mastectomy scarring."

"We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience and that sharing photos can help raise awareness about breast cancer and support the men and women facing a diagnosis, undergoing treatment or living with the scars of cancer. The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies," the platform has said.

But Facebook's policy for advertisers is much stricter, in part because the content is actively pushed to feeds rather than users having to opt in to see it.

"Nudity or implied nudity" and "excessive visible skin or cleavage, even if not explicitly sexual in nature" is outright banned for Facebook ads.

Breast Cancer Network Australia

Facebook Australia and New Zealand spokesperson Antonia Sanda told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement that she "love[s] these ads and our team has been working hard with Bakers Delight to allow them to run on our platforms," but is "disappointed that [the advertiser has] not taken our guidance.”

"We recognise the importance of ads about breast cancer education or teaching women how to examine their breasts and we allow these on our platforms," Sanda said. "However, these specific ads do not contain any of these messages, rather it is a brand selling a product."

Nonetheless, breast cancer survivors are criticizing Facebook's decision to ban the campaign.

"Disgusting that facebook would ban this [ad]," one person wrote in a Facebook comment. "I am proud of my scars and it's not nudity it is a reality for so many of us fighting for our lives and I will never be ashamed of them."

"Should us breast cancer survivors be ashamed of our altered bodies? I think not," another person commented. "We are still women with beautiful bodies and this sort of campaign helps us to be proud of our bodies not just the fact that we lived."

Facebook has been criticized in the past for their censorship of users' breasts. In 2014, the platform removed a new mother's breastfeeding photo after it was reported for "nudity," and apologized after taking down a cancer patient's nipple photo that she'd posted to raise awareness about symptoms. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, deleted an entire postmastectomy tattoo account in 2015, but restored it after a slew of complaints.

Stephanie Baer contributed reporting.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.