A 59-year-old French school teacher has sued Facebook for allegedly disabling his account because he posted an image of a 19th-century nude painting. Facebook denied it censored the man’s profile and fought for five years to keep the case out of court, but it was allowed to move forward this week.
Frederic Durand-Baissas is accusing Facebook of deleting his account “without warning or justification” in 2011. Shortly before, he had posted an image of a famous painting depicting a woman’s nude body. And despite his objections, Durand Baissas’ original account has never been restored.
“This is a case of free speech and censorship on a social network,” he said last year. “If [Facebook] can’t see the difference between an artistic masterpiece and a pornographic image, we in France [can].”
His lawyers are asking for the social media giant to reactivate his account, and also to pay him about $23,500 in damages. However, Facebook says the case should be thrown out because he signed off on terms and conditions that said any legal disputes with the company needed to be settled in California. However, a French appeals court disagreed, and now the case will be heard in Paris.
This was almost certainly an incident of Facebook’s content moderation algorithm making a mistake. And since Durand-Baissas’ account was originally banned in 2011, Facebook changed its rules to allow images of nude artwork to be posted. It’s unclear why the company doesn’t just admit fault and make this case go away, but if Durand-Baissas wins, it could set a great legal precedent for French users moving forward.
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