Facebook’s Algorithm Censors a Book Cover

Helen's StoryWhatever algorithm governs Facebook posts refuses to allow ones about the book Helen’s Story if they include the cover. Both the publisher, Aqueduct Press, and the author, Rosanne Rabinowitz, have put up posts that were taken down. I’ve tried to do it twice and had the posts removed. We’ve complained to Facebook, but had no response.

The book is a perfect match for Aqueduct’s Conversation Pieces series. It’s a response to The Great God Pan, a classic work by Arthur Machen. (You can find a free ebook of Machen’s book on Project Gutenberg.) It was first published in the UK by PS Publishing in 2013 and was nominated for Shirley Jackson award.

The cover is an original painting by Erika Steiskal, done originally for the PS edition. Which is to say that this is a serious work of literature that uses a work of art for its cover.

I’m not sure if it’s the visible breast or the pubic hair or both that caused Facebook to hiccup and remove the post. (Since the pubic hair is green and leafy, I contend that it’s the equivalent of a fig leaf, but you may look at it differently.)

I do know that when I shared Sara Stamey’s latest post on her Greek travels and deliberately used her photo of a ancient statue of a full frontal naked man, Facebook had no problem with it. Apparently ancient Greek statues with penises are OK, but modern paintings with breasts and pubic hair are not.

Interestingly enough, Twitter has no problem with this book cover.

Rabinowitz has addressed this problem by posting the following version of the cover. It appears to be acceptable to Facebook:

CensoredIt’s an excellent book. I found it both delightful and disturbing, which is always a good mix. You can buy it directly from Aqueduct or from Amazon, though Amazon does not appear to have the ebook edition up even though it should be there.

If you feel inclined, try sharing this post on Facebook and see if it is still censoring this book cover.

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Facebook’s Algorithm Censors a Book Cover — 13 Comments

  1. I had the notion of a cover image of my heroine pointing a derringer, and my designer made a nice one. But then I learned that Amazon doesn’t let you post covers of people pointing guns — not perhaps in their store, but in certain other advertising functions. Rather than wrestle with this it was easier to change the cover. (And only after that was done did a publisher pipe up…)

    • So what does Amazon do with old pulp mysteries, which usually had a man with a gun on the cover? Or, come to think of it, James Bond books, which (at least in my memory) had him holding a gun?

    • As I understand it (dimly), you can have the cover character holding the gun. You can even have them pointing the gun up or down or to the right or left. But you can’t have them pointing it at the fourth wall, at you the holder of the book. I have no idea why. Surely it would be a very delicate constitution indeed, to be unable to tolerate a photo of James Bond pointing the gun at you from the cover of TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

  2. Very nice cover, but yes, it’s nipples plus the “fig leaf.” Not leafy enough. It looks too much (from thumbnail view) like ordinary pube hair, which of course terrifies FB.

    To make it facebookable, the fig leaf should be much bigger. And a couple more on her nipples.

    I feel your pain. My first Hinky Chicago covers (done by the talented Leah Cutter and featuring NO NIPS OR CROTCHES were banned on Amazon via the same prudery.

    • They had some trouble with Amazon, too, but it was resolved. The explanation — which may have been true — was the fact that the cover was the same as the PS Publishing cover. Which it was, with permission of PS and the artist, of course.

  3. I was surprised to hear about this cover issue — I didn’t think about posting the archaic statue as something that might be regarded as pornography. Maybe because it’s “ancient art,” it’s okay, versus the new painting? This is so stupid.

    • I didn’t see it that way either, but since I wanted to chat about your blog post on FB anyway, I thought I’d try posting it to see what happened. Which was nothing. Clearly it’s art, and ancient art to boot.

      But I still don’t get it about the painting and I wish Facebook would respond to stuff like this in a reasonable manner. Clearly they need more people dealing with these things — their algorithms aren’t up to the job.

  4. Pingback: Helen’s Story is out again – and censored by Facebook! | Rosanne Rabinowitz