Public Nudity in an Age of Instagram – Jonathan Burman

Public Nudity in an Age of Instagram



Line 13 of Instagram’s lengthy terms of use states that users must not post “nude, partially nude … pornographic or sexually suggestive photos”. To most people, this is not a surprise. After all, similar rules are present in the terms of many of the world’s largest social networks and governments are working with internet service providers to make it harder for people, particularly children, to access websites that contain pornographic material. However, many people argue that only pornography should be banned from the service, and not nudity.

Actress Scout Willis recently had her Instagram account suspended for posting a photograph of two semi-naked women. She took to Twitter to announce her boycott of Instagram, tweeting:

“@instagram there is no way 2 contact you directly, I would really appreciate response b/c you took a lot of memories from me b/c u h8 nips”

She then decided to walk topless around New York to demonstrate her opposition to the rules. She used her Twitter account to post pictures of herself walking through Manhattan and buying groceries wearing only a skirt and shoes, writing that it is “legal in NYC but not on @instagram”.

Her protest got a lot of support, with #FreeTheNipple trending on Twitter. Singer Rihanna also decided to boycott Instagram when some of her own photos were removed. In a blog post, Willis said that for every “nasty” message she had received, there were “10 more of support, appreciation, and empowerment”. Instagram’s policy on nudity has been described as “disproportionate”; it does not allow any pictures of female breasts, even if they are of breast feeding mothers or breast cancer patients.

The account was later reactivated, with Instagram stating that they “try hard to find a good balance between allowing people to express themselves creatively and keeping Instagram a fun and safe place.” Scout Willis responded by tweeting “they gave it back, but I don’t want it…..”

Her protest has highlighted the issue of whether nudity should be allowed on social networks, even if pornography is not. Twitter, for example, allows nudity but not pornography. Video sharing app Vine, along with Google+, do not allow either. Scout Willis has helped to promote the #FreeTheNipple campaign, which has gained a lot of momentum in just a few weeks. On the 1st June, around 20 men and women stood topless in Washington Square Park in New York to protest against the online censorship of female breasts and just recently, Facebook changed its terms of use to allow pictures of breastfeeding women to be posted on the platform. The campaigners argue that censoring female breasts but not male breasts is sexist and that rules about nudity online should be more parallel to laws about nudity in public. In the UK and many US states, public nudity is legal.

Despite the fact that censorship of online pornography is becoming much tighter, the #FreeTheNipple campaign is making it increasingly hard for companies like Instagram to maintain their policies on nudity. It is unlikely to be long before social networks have to face the choice of either allowing photographs of both male and female breasts, or banning pictures of both.


Synopsis: This piece talks about the inconsistency between the rules regarding nudity online and the laws about nudity that may affect us offline. The article describes the efforts of Scout Willis and the #FreeTheNipple campaign to remove sexist rules from the terms of use of many internet services. The article responds to the theme by talking about the protests of these men and women.

Bio: I am a fourteen year old school student who enjoys learning about technology, innovation and change. I live in Manchester, United Kingdom.



2 thoughts on “Public Nudity in an Age of Instagram – Jonathan Burman

  1. God created man and woman in the nude state. Nudity is not wrong, if the behavior with it is good. the body is just the body.

    If there is bad behavior involved, then it degrades and devalues the purpose of the human body.

    in the above picture, she looks very natural and sweet, and feminine.


  2. In general, Western societies have a Christian moral foundation; that is particular about nudity as an aspect of quite rigid sexual mores. That foundation is being abandoned but is still held by a substantial number of citizens. Commercial purveyors such as Internet social networks must try to satisfy the majority of users and offend the fewest possible.

    All users should, seems to me, be prepared to compromise in that direction for the maximization of participation. Insisting upon one’s own view with no value given other views is totalitarian and selfish.

    Our species’ social success has always rested upon necessary compromises. Folk who ignore that are acting destructively. Or so it seems to me!


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