What We Learned This Week: The Onions That Were Too Sexy for Facebook

By David Schonauer   Friday October 16, 2020

Want to see some smokin’ hot onions?

You might find some to leer at on the Food Network, but not at Facebook.

As we noted this week, Facebook recently banned a photo of onions for being “overly sexual,” a decision that lit up social media and news sites around the world.

“Facebook's community standards have gotten stricter over the years. And while some rules are more obvious than others (nudity, violence, and hate speech are all barred from the platform), one might think posting a pile of produce is safe. But you'd be wrong, in certain instances that is,” noted Thrillist.

The image in question, posted to the Facebook page of Canada-based Gaze Seed Company, was being used to sell Walla Walla sweet onion seeds. The ad shows a handful of the company’s onions in a wicker basket positioned in what Facebook said was a “sexually suggestive manner.”

To be sure, Walla Walla onions are, as the BBC commented, known for their size and flavor. Gaze Seed store manager Jackson McLean noted that perhaps "something about the round shapes" of the onions could be suggestive of breasts or buttocks. “He knew his customers would find the ad rejection funny, and posted the photo, along with the automated Facebook message warning ‘listings may not position products or services in a sexually suggestive manner,’ to the company page,” added the BBC.

McLean said some clients have been posting images of potentially lewd carrots and pumpkins in reply.

He also appealed the decision to Facebook. "We use automated technology to keep nudity off our apps, but sometimes it doesn't know a Walla Walla onion from a, well, you know," Facebook Canada's head of communications, Meg Sinclair, told the BBC.

“Facebook says in the first six months of 2020, they removed 75.2 million pieces of content due to ‘adult nudity and sexual activity.’ This number, they say, is lower than usual due to the decreased workforce as a result of COVID-19. So, this suggests that many of them are being checked by humans, too, but it’s no surprise that the AI sometimes slips up,” noted DIY Photography.

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:

1. The Close-Up Photographer of the Year

Galice Hoarau, a French professor of marine molecular ecology, has been named the winner of the second-annual Close-Up Photographer of the Year competition for his shot of eel larva, taken off the island of Lembeh (Indonesia) during a blackwater dive. (Blackwater diving is essentially diving at night in the open ocean.) His image (shot with an Olympus E-M1 Mark II and an Olympus 30mm Macro, along with two Inon strobes and other lights) was chosen from more than 6,000 entries from 52 countries.

2.  Isolated Lives Along a Remote Siberian River

Life is different when you live at a secluded meteorological station on the isolated banks of the Ket River in Siberia, noted The New York Times. “Extreme weather here wreaks havoc on overland roads, which fluctuate between muddy and rubbly in the summer and inaccessibly icy in the winter. Driving distances are measured in days and weeks,” noted Emile Ducke, who photographed communities along the river. For the weather station’s residents, Ket’s remoteness offered the promise of personal freedom," Ducke added.

3.  Images of Men in Love between 1850 and 1950

Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell’s book LOVING — A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s-1950s  began in an antiques shop in Dallas when they discovered a photograph of two men, unmistakably in love. Nini and Treadwell saw themselves in the two men in the photograph, which became the first of a 2,800-image collection, featured now in their new book. The earliest image in their collection dates to 1850; the collection spans 100 years, including images from the Civil War and World War II, noted The Washington Post.

4. Photographers Praise Chrissy Tiegen

After Chrissy Teigen recently posted a series of black-and-white photos to Instagram documenting her emotional trauma at having lost a pregnancy, there was an outpouring of support. But some questioned why she decided to share her anguish with the world. Dawn McCormick, a New York–based photographer who volunteers for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization that offers free professional portraits to parents who are experiencing the loss of a baby, offered praise for Tiegen at Slate.

5. Why We Love to Photograph Dogs, Cats, Birds and Other Animals

Yesterday we rounded up a number of stories about pets and pet photography, including a look at the finalists from the 2020 Comedy Pet Photo Awards (above). There was also photographer Grey Malin's new book, featuring dogs lounging by the Beverly Hills Hotel, and photographer Nancy Baron's new book Palm Springs: Modern Dogs at Home, as well as a tutorial showing you how to photograph dogs like Elliott Erwitt and some thoughts about pet birds. As we noted, we need pets more than ever in 2020.
At top: From Emile Ducke


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