​Brazil to sue Facebook for blocking photo of indigenous woman from 1909

AFP Photo / Joe Klamar
The Brazilian Ministry of Culture has announced plans to file a lawsuit against Facebook for blocking a photograph made back in 1909 showing an Indian with her breasts exposed.

The Ministry said on Friday that Facebook is promoting censorship in the Internet trying to illegally and arbitrarily impose their standards in Brazil and other countries, thus disrespecting their rights to national self-determination.

The move also violated numerous laws, such as the Constitution of Brazil and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity and Cultural Expressions, the ministry said.

“The Ministry of Culture will take appropriate legal action against the practice of censorship and the attack on freedom of expression,” it said as quoted by O Globo newspaper.

The picture was placed on web as part of a post dedicated to the launch of Brasiliana Fotografica photo portal by the National Library Foundation and Instituto Moreira Salles. The photo, created at the turn of the 20th century, shows a bare chested couple of Aimore people.

The Ministry of Culture contacted Facebook, warning of the illegality of its actions and requested that it immediately unblocked the photograph. However, the company maintained its decision to censor it, arguing that the social network has its own rules adopted globally.

“For us it is a serious issue because it is an assault on our sovereignty, our legislation. It is disrespect to our cultural diversity and to the indigenous peoples of Brazil,” said Brazil’s Minister of Culture Juca Ferreira. “If the Indians may not appear as they are, it means they may not appear indigenous, which is great cruelty.”

According to the ministry the photo was posted on Wednesday – and on Thursday morning the server noticed that the picture was removed. Throughout the day, the ministry tried to contact Facebook. In the evening, Bruno Magrani, Facebook’s director of institutional relations in Brazil announced that the image would not be unblocked. The final decision was made during a phone call, so there is no record of the arguments it was based on, the ministry added.

However, on Friday evening, more than 24 hours after the ministry addressed its complaint, Facebook unblocked the image. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Culture has continued to consider the case seriously.

“It is not easy to find the right balance between allowing people to express themselves creatively and maintain a comfortable experience for our global and culturally diverse community,” said Facebook late on Friday in a note. “We respect local laws and just like any other media, have limitations with nudity. We are always open to feedback and discussion to improve our Community Standards.”