The social media site's algorithm decided a picture of some Walla Walla sweets was "overtly sexualized."

By Mike Pomranz
October 09, 2020
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Using produce to stand in for private parts is a time-honored tradition in comedy and in conversation. Most recently, for example, if you aren’t already aware of what the eggplant emoji can mean, you’ve likely been misinterpreting many of your texts. And while the human brain is capable of sexualizing just about anything (ask Dr. Freud), the automated censors over at Facebook may have a bit too much imagination programmed in for their own good. It turns out artificial intelligence has a dirty mind!

On Monday, The Seed Company by EW Gaze based in St. John's, Newfoundland, turned—ironically enough—to Facebook to post a bizarre notification the business received from the social media site. “So we just got notified by Facebook that the photo used for our Walla Walla Onion seed is ‘Overtly Sexual’ and therefore cannot be advertised to be sold on their platform,” The Seed Company wrote alongside a photo of the rejected image. “Can you see it?”

So what was the problem? Facebook’s message simply states, “Listings may not position products or services in a sexually suggestive manner”—making the reason that a pile of extremely sweet, mild and large onions were in violation of this policy as clear as mud. That said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Jackson McLean, who manages the store, told the BBC he suspects that maybe “something about the round shapes” set off a red flag.

Credit: BruceBlock/Getty Images

Meanwhile, an actual human at Facebook admits that the decision wasn’t made by an overly prude employee. “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 British news organization. “We restored the ad and are sorry for the business's trouble.”

But in the end, an apology may not be needed. The Seed Company has reportedly re-branded these Walla Walla Onions as “sexy onions,” and now they’re moving like hot cakes. “We've sold more in the last three days than in the last five years,” McLean was quoted as saying.

Yes, the old adage is true: Sex sells—even when it comes to onions.