A Letter to Censorship

Many of you have asked us if Facebook has reinstated our advertisements. The short answer is no. The long answer is delineated in our co-written letter, addressed to Facebook itself.

(Image via Marius Sperlich)

Dear Facebook,

When we first got the notification that you had removed every one of our ads across your platform, all that we could feel was anger. Flagged for Adult Content? Are you serious? We read and reread your Community Standards, your Terms of Use, your Advertising Policies. In what context could our ad be interpreted as sexual? Was it periods themselves that were being sexualized and deemed inappropriate? It felt like a deliberate and personal attack on our mission to destigmatize menstruation, and the reasoning behind the mechanism that prevented our ad from being approved–which stated “We don't allow ads that depict nudity, even if it's not sexual in nature. This includes the use of nudity for artistic or educational purposes”–felt insufficient, irrelevant, and unspecific.

As reference, we will describe the advertisement we posted. It was a carousel ad containing multiple images, with the first a photo of our Chica box, two truffles, and a bougainvillea blossom resting on pink cotton. The second and third were pulled from our first brand photoshoot; an informal and impromptu affair modelled by roommates and captured by a friend and fellow classmate. The femmes in the images are fully decked out (and fully clothed) in their best red attire, contemplating or eating truffles with the captions “New Period, New You” and “Treat Yourself to a Better Period,” respectively.

To be clear, we do not sell ‘Adult Products or Services.’ Chica is a period product. We offer chocolate truffles infused with a Chinese herbal formula that promotes hormone balance for a more comfortable cycle. There is nothing in our brand offering that remotely resembles a contraceptive, a toy, or any product or service for enhanced sexual gratification. We do not restrict our advertising to adults precisely because menstruation is not an adult phenomenon–most people in North America begin bleeding between the ages of ten and fifteen. While we have shared several pieces of art on our social media depicting the nude human form, not only were these compliant with both Facebook and Instagram’s policies, they were shared with the intent to educate, destigmatize, and celebrate.

This brings us to our appeal, and the subsequent rejection of said appealed ad. When we requested more clarity on the content that was deemed inappropriate, the response referenced an image on our “landing page that violates Facebook policies.” “Ads like these are too sensitive in nature,” the email read, and “I suggest you have a look at our Advertising Policies to see the full list of adult products and services that we don't allow.” The violating image we received as a reference was a sketch of the female torso rendered in black and white with a peek of a blue nipple showing. If this specific image had been included in our ad, we would have acknowledged our mistake. However, there is nothing in the published list of policies that prohibits artistic nudity when it is posted outside of the advertisement format–in fact, artistic nudity is explicitly permitted (See Facebook Community Standards, subsection titled “Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity:” We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures. See Instagram Community Guidelines, subsection titled “Post photos and videos that are appropriate for a diverse audience:” Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too). The guidelines for ads are somewhat less specific, but an example of a compliant image used in promotional material does include a nude statue (Facebook Advertising Policies) with very exposed penis genitilia. We don’t care if it’s the most famous genitilia of all time, we don’t agree that David gets special privilege. While the intended destination of the ad is the landing page of our website, not our Instagram or Facebook feed where the image was posted, we can see that it is possible for a viewer to click through to our profile from the ad. However, we believe we should not be punished because our content follows community guidelines.

The problem, therefore, seems not to be with the ad itself. Nor with our landing page. If that were the case, similar products would likely run into the same barrier in their advertising. Instead, the issue seems to be with our content, and our message.

We challenge this censorship because we have followed your suggested processes, complied with your suggested guidelines, and even archived the potentially offensive artistic nudity posted on our social media. We have done so while keeping in mind the difficulty and nuance of enforcing a set of policies that is rather diaphanous and entirely subjective. We are conscious of the pressure exerted by Facebook users who are constantly demanding a just set of policies from a media giant that still doesn’t know exactly what it is and is attempting to evaluate justice in an extremely varied environment (Radiolab). We are well aware of the censoring processes in place within the Facebook institution, and that they rely on the instinct, resilience, and compassionate capacity of moderators that are–at the end of the day–only human (The Atlantic). However, we want to see progress. We request an explanation for our ad’s removal that is specific and constructive, and we refuse to be intimidated by the perpetuation of the period taboo.  

We write this letter in an effort to give feedback on the guidelines Facebook relies upon to regulate its content. We write in the hope that this will be an opportunity to promote a more nuanced and educated conversation on menstruation, and we write because directing our anger at a monolithic machine is a complete and utter waste of my time. We write because at the end of the day we are a strapped e-commerce business trying to spread period love to as many as people as possible, and one of the easiest and most affordable way to achieve this today is via Facebook advertising. We’re admittedly not huge fans, but we know our customers are here. We’re interested in advertising on your platform, but we’re not interested in disregarding our mission because boobs, uteri, and periods may make someone squirm in their seat.

Yours truly,

Concerned Facebook members, world citizens, and regular menstruators

Chica Chocolate

Chica Chocolate