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Overtly sexual onions offend Facebook

Walla Walla onions at a farmer’s market. Oh, baby.
Walla Walla onions at a farmer’s market. Oh, baby.
Photo: Danita Delimont (Getty Images)

The Seed Company by EW Gaze, in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada recently started stocking seeds for Walla Walla onions, larger and sweeter than the average yellow onion. Manager Jackson McLean was very excited and set about preparing an ad for Facebook. It was for onions. What could go wrong?

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And then this happened:

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Facebook refused to post the ad on grounds that the onions had “overtly sexualized positioning.” At first McLean was puzzled, he told BBC news. Then he realized “something about the round shapes” were suggestive of boobs or butts.

McLean posted the rejection on the store’s Facebook page, along with a picture of a woman with a basket of onions on her chest. “For anyone who can’t see it, we’re thinking this might be what facebook is picturing when they see our onion photo. Bunch of dirty minds over there.” Customers responded with suggestive photos of ginseng and song lyrics: “Certified freak, 7 days a week,/Wet Allium cePa, walking down the street.”

But McLean also appealed the decision to Facebook, which responded swiftly. “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 BBC. “We restored the ad and are sorry for the business’s trouble.”

The unexpected attention (including a mention on The Daily Show) has made Walla Walla onions a bestseller. McLean says that The Seed Company has sold more onions in three days than it has in the past five years. It’s so nice to know that social media can still bring us joy.

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Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

1) A non-story. Technology that flags posts makes these mistakes all the time.

2) Much of a sweet onion gets its properties from the soil.  Growing these onions outside of Walla Walla is gonna make them taste very different.   I feel sad for all the onion growers that are likely to be disappointed.