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Facebook Deletes Breastfeeding Photos for “Obscenity”

September 15, 2007

Facebook has been deleting members’ breastfeeding photos, and even banning members, because of the “obscenity” of breastfeeding images.

Some members have responded by setting up the group, “Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!,” which has almost 16,000 members as of right now. Most people recognize, I think, that Facebook has the right to make decisions about what people can upload to the site, and preventing the pictures from appearing doesn’t actually prevent anyone from breastfeeding. The objection is to the perceived hypocrisy of allowing photos of bikini-clad girls revealing far more skin to remain while removing breastfeeding photos and banning members who continue to post them, and the implication that breastfeeding (even when no nipple is exposed) is obscene or needs to be hidden away because there is something wrong about it.

What I’d like to know from Facebook (and haven’t received a response to yet):

1) Are breastfeeding photos removed by Facebook by Facebook staff examining the site, or only if other members complain about them?

2) Is a complaint enough to cause a photo to be removed, or is there some judgment on Facebook’s part as to whether the photo can remain?
If photos are automatically removed just because someone complains, that’s not a very good system – people with personal or agenda-driven grudges would be making it unnecessarily unpleasant to be a Facebook member, which I doubt the site runners want to do, as a business strategy. If Facebook folks are making some kind of judgment as to whether the complaint is valid, the following two questions are important. The USA Today blog entry linked below reports that “‘an investigations team’ within the customer service department decides whether a particular image qualifies as ‘offensive content.'” This lends support to the idea that Facebook is being ridiculous, judging a small bit of flesh being used for a natural purpose of feeding a child as offensive when broader swaths of the same for titillation purposes are judged as fine, and could in fact change course on this issue.

3) If a breastfeeding photo does not show any nipple (which the majority would not), why is it considered obscene?
Breastfeeding does not equal nudity. One almost never sees nipple, given that a kid is latched on. How is this line drawn, given that photos that do not reveal anything but the sides of breasts or less are being removed? 1/2 a breast? 3/4 of a breast?

4) Are other photos, such as of women in bikinis or shirts that may expose as much breast as or more than breastfeeding does, removed for obscenity if someone complains about them?

If one were to complain about bikini photos, would that cause removal of the photos to the same degree as breastfeeding photos are being removed? If the terms of service prohibit nudity and obscenity, how is a breastfeeding photo any more nude or obscene than a photo of a woman in a plunging neckline or swimsuit? If Facebook is adhering to their “Photos containing an exposed breast do violate our terms and are removed,” line, why the seeming inconsistency?

Update: I received a response from Facebook to the above questions. Not surprisingly, the answer doesn’t really address the meat of the issue:

Users are able to report any material on the site that they find offensive or annoying to them. We review the reported material and remove anything that violates our Terms of Use. If warranted, we will also warn the user and disable their account if the abuse continues. To view our terms of user please visit the link http://www.facebook.com/terms.php. Let me know if you have any further questions.

So, does that explain why breastfeeding is obscene but girls in bikinis are not? Why showing almost no boob or more boob but no nipple is off-limits? Nope.

Coverage elsewhere:
The Star (Canada) profiles a woman who was banned from Facebook related to this issue

TechCrunch – because it’s nice when breastfeeding issues make it out of the mommy and lactivist blogs.

Strollerderby’s MetroDad on this Babble blog puts it directly: “C’mon, Facebook. Get with the f**king times, man. You allow underage teenage girls to put up photos of themselves in their skivvies but you remove photos of mothers who want to share subtle photos of themselves breastfeeding their children? What the f**k?”

USAToday blog points out that a banned member was told her account could not be reactivated under any circumstances. All over a little breastfeeding. And who knew USA Today had a blog? Thanks to Kleinheider for the tip on this one.

One Small Step for Breastfeeding is thr blog of Karen, a banned Facebook member. Browse the August and September archives for her posts about her Facebook experience.

Jezebel – Jezebel, you were doing okay until you called the lactivists “retarded.”

Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog reminds us that MySpace did the same stupid thing earlier this year. Can I get my social networking without the hypocrisy and boob-fear, please?

Facebook Observer kind of misses the point, asking “why don’t the lactivist’s[sic] start their own social network?” Because breastfeeding is nothing to be ashamed of or protected from. That’s why so many states have established laws stating that women have a right to breastfeed anywhere women otherwise have the right to be – because women shouldn’t have to close themselves off from the world and pretend that babies get fed through some kind of invisible magic.

A Mommy Story has a good rant.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonathan permalink
    November 14, 2007 2:16 pm

    This seems like a no-brainer to me. All women who are currently Facebook members and who have breast-fed a child themselves, plan to or would like to do so in the future, or know someone who has, should immediately close their accounts and tell the Facebook puritans why they are doing it. Since this would amount to, oh I don’t know, anywhere from 100% to 100% of current female Facebook members, Facebook would be left with nothing but horny males and no females on-site to troll for. Guess how long it would take Facebook to change its Terms Of Use if that happened.

  2. Coleen permalink
    June 25, 2008 11:59 am

    A couple of months ago my 2 very modest breast feeding pictures were taken down from Facebook. I received an e-mail from them stating it was considered obscene material. I was warned not to reupload the photos or my account would be shut down. I was furious but had no outlet, so I just dealt with it. Today I come home to an e-mail from betterphoto.com, where I have been an active for several years. They too have removed the photos. The reason they give: “the photos are not family friendly”. I am so frustrated and angry! I don’t understand how people can view breastfeeding as obscene…. I need a larger outlet to voice this issue and I just don’t know where or what that is. All I know is that I am sick and tired of being told to put “them” away. I wonder why I wasted all this time, effort and painstaking frustration to be able to breast feed. I could have taken the easy way out but I worked my butt off to be able to breast feed. Myjourney started with weekly appts with a lactation consultant, drinking teas and other concoctions and taking medication to increase my milk. Not to mention the hours of painful pumping in order to boost my milk supply. All this and what for? To be constantly made to feel like it’s shameful and dirty…To be looked at with disdain and horror when I discretely feed my child in hidden away corners and bathrooms? Would these people want to eat THEIR meal in a bathroom? What do we need to do to get back to basics. You know, the days when formula was suplemented to help out in desperate situation where NOTHING worked/breastfeeding was imposible and children were going to starve without it? Too many people have taken the easy/lazy way out over the years and those of us still trying to do what doctors say is best, are suffering.

    I AM SO SICK OF IT!!!!!

    The problem I have is that I have this huge opinion and a loud voice, but no clue what to do with it.

    here is my photo:

    Mar 1 2008- Breastfeeding 013-editedBW

    Is it really that horrible?

    Thanks for reading!

    Coleen
    coleen_m_patrick@yahoo.ca

  3. June 25, 2008 2:05 pm

    Coleen – I guess they think that feeding your baby (part of your, uh, family) is not family-friendly? Argh. I had hoped Facebook had come around on this one. I think that is a beautiful photo, and am sorry you’ve been so frustrated.

    Also, I wish I had something clever to tell you – people have been complaining to Facebook for a while now about this, but apparently it hasn’t worked. Very frustrating.

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