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Tommy Lee's nude photo sparks backlash over double-standard social media censorship

Rock musician Tommy Lee posted a full-frontal nude selfie on Instagram and Facebook early Thursday with the caption "Ooooopppsss."

The graphic photo, which remained on the Meta-owned platforms for hours before being taken down, launched an outcry against social media companies for applying what critics say is a double standard in platform guidelines that favor cisgender men.

Nude content posted by women, transgender and nonbinary users, however, has faced far quicker and more punitive consequences, critics said.

One user commented that Lee's penis picture "was on Instagram for 5+ hours before being pulled yet queer artists get banned all the time for art that doesn't even show genitalia."

"Girls can't post photos with cleavage on Instagram without it being taken down but Tommy Lee can post THAT. nah," another wrote.

Another person said: "@instagram literally has the clearest double standard among their community guidelines.

Meta removed the post on both Instagram and Facebook "within hours" for violating its policies on nudity, a company spokesperson told NPR.

Instagram's anti-nudity guidelines include "photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks" and "some photos of female nipples" — a topic central to the years-long "free the nipple" movement.

The guidelines say "photos in the context of breastfeeding, birth giving and after-birth moments, health-related situations (for example, post-mastectomy, breast cancer awareness or gender confirmation surgery) or an act of protest are allowed."

"Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too," the company's guidelines say.

Still, some social media users insist that Instagram continues to enforce bans on allowed content, such as images posted by people who have received gender-affirming "top surgery" — in which breast tissue is removed.

One Twitter user called it "ridiculous" that the Mötley Crüe rocker was able to post his penis online while "trans men can't even post pictures of their chests without Instagram taking it down."

Meta's own "supreme court" is considering that particular issue. The company's oversight board, which the company created to review and make decisions about what can and can't be posted on its platforms, announced late last month that it would take up its first cases related to gender identity and nudity on Instagram.

The cases involve Meta's removal of two separate posts from the same account, in which a transgender and nonbinary couple posted topless photos (with nipples covered in both instances) to announce the fact that one of them was getting "top surgery." Meta later called the removal an "enforcement error" and restored the posts.

As for Lee's part, it's not the musician and reality TV star's first nudity controversy. Rick Canny, Lee's manager, declined to comment in response to NPR's inquiries.

Editor's note: Facebook parent Meta pays NPR to license NPR content.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.