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Why Won’t Facebook Show Photo of an Afflicted Man Pope Francis Embraced?

Pope Francis embraces disfigured Vicinio Rivas


John Burger - published on 06/29/15

Ad policy leads to rejection of Aleteia's wish to promote scene of greeting

Remember Vinicio Riva? Sure you do. He was the man with a horrible bodily disfigurement who was embraced and kissed by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square a couple of years ago. The moment captivated millions of people worldwide.

Riva suffers from a non-infectious genetic disease, neurofibromatosis type 1, that has left him completely covered with growths, swellings and itchy sores. If you saw him, you might think he was wearing the most grotesque Halloween mask imaginable.

But while Pope Francis readily embraced Riva and could see the human being behind the monstrous appearance, Facebook apparently does not want a photo of the man to be seen.

When Aleteia’s communications manager, Katherine Ruddy, wanted to boost an article using a photo of Riva being embraced by the Pope, Facebook rejected it, sending her a note about the social media site’s advertising policies:

Your ad wasn’t approved because we don’t allow ads that reference body images in a way that may make some viewers upset. Ads referring to someone’s health or appearance are sensitive in nature. To continue advertising, we recommend using an image that focuses clearly on your product or service.

Facebook, Ruddy explained, has to approve the image and text of an ad because "it will be presented to people that aren’t following your page."

Media around the world had no trouble showing the photo of the Pope, whose namesake, St. Francis, kissed lepers, and Riva. Riva’s aunt, Caterina Lotto, recalled the moment in St. Peter’s Square.

"When he came close to us," she told CNN, "I thought he would give me his hand. Instead he went straight to Vinicio and embraced him tightly. I thought he wouldn’t give him back to me he held him so tightly. We didn’t speak. We said nothing but he looked at me as if he was digging deep inside, a beautiful look that I would never have expected."

Riva came away from the experience with a renewed sense of dignity. He’s accustomed to stares of shock and fear, so he was confused at first by the Pope’s lack of hesitation.

"He didn’t have any fear of my illness," he told CNN. "He embraced me without speaking … I quivered. I felt a great warmth."

Facebook has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

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