UPDATE: A Facebook spokesperson has responded to an inquiry by The Advocate and issued a statement, including an apology, which has been added to this report.
Photographer Michael Stokes has found himself in Facebook's crosshairs multiple times for posting pictures of wounded soldiers. Stokes has had several photos removed from his fan page and earlier this week found himself locked out of his account for posting "things that aren't allowed."
As The Advocate reported in January, Stokes is best known for his portraits of soldiers wounded in combat and the graceful way he highlights their beauty. While many of his subjects are amputees and no longer considered perfect by ableist standards, Stokes brings out their humanity and inner beauty in his art. Subjects pose either entirely or nearly naked to show their scars, amputated limbs, and other war wounds.
The photo that got Stokes banned this week shows a nude veteran photographed from the side lighting a cigarette. In the email telling him he wasn't allowed access to the site for 30 days, Facebook also said he would not be allowed to post further photos to his page because he had "repeatedly posted things that aren't allowed."
In July, a photo of a topless female veteran who lost both of her arms in Iraq and was diagnosed with breast cancer after returning home to the United States was the source of Facebook's ire. The site has an exception to its nudity policy specifically meant to protect breast cancer survivors and transgender men who show breast scarring. The photo was not removed from Stokes's page, but fans who shared the photo also felt the wrath of Facebook and were banned by the social media site.
Stokes was warned by Facebook after the photo went viral that his page had been reported because “one or more photos” violated the site's terms of service. He removed the photo as a precaution, knowing how often he had been targeted by the site.
Many users have taken up Stokes's cause over the past year as the social media giant has repeatedly targeted the photographer. Many of the photos with which the site has taken issue have been gay-themed and did not violate any terms of service rules. Fans allege that Stokes's photography has been flagged for its gay eroticism and provocative themes.
“I think it opposes a convention where seeing women as objects is acceptable and the assumption is that the viewer is male, and they are in a position of power," Stokes told The Independent. "I know some men get furious if they see a man posing in a sensual way. It’s threatening to some men, not all men, to have a woman as the voyeur."
After The Independent contacted Facebook seeking comment on why it has repeatedly targeted Stokes, the photo of the male veteran was reinstated. Stokes received an apology but no explanation as to why it was removed or reinstated. The site has refused to allow Stokes to repost other "offensive" photos even after officials decided they didn't violate the terms of service.
"This is the third time this has happened to me where a media inquiry caused them to revisit it or change their mind," Stokes told the U.K. newspaper.
Although Facebook executives won't say why the site had targeted Stokes, and had claimed someone at Facebook was investigating, a spokesperson emailed a statement to The Advocate and a source tells us Stokes's content is back up and he has full access to his account. Bottom line, says our source: "this was a mistake."
The spokesperson for Facebook couched that admission slightly, but did offer Stokes an apology:
“As our team processes millions of reports each week, we occasionally make a mistake. In this case, we should not have removed this content, and we apologize for that. We aim to find the right balance between giving people a place to express themselves and promoting a welcoming and safe environment for our diverse, global community."
You can see examples of Michael Stokes's work on his Facebook page by clicking here.