Protest Over Facebook Yanking Breastfeeding Pix

There's a big kerfuffle brewing over on Facebook over the posting of photos showing moms breastfeeding their babies. Apparently, Facebook has not only pulled some of these photos, but it has also sent warnings to some users who posted the photos; and even terminated the account of at least one user. Facebook claims that the pictures it pulled were obscene. The ensuing response has been both a growing virtual protest and well as a physical protest that took place just this last weekend.

On Saturday a "handful" of protesters showed up outside of the Facebook headquarters in downtown Palo Alto, California, to "sing, chant and breast-feed," to protest Facebook's actions. But what has drawn far more supporters is the continuing protest that it taking place on Facebook itself: The Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!(Official petition to Facebook) group has over 76,000 members, 10,575 wall posts, and 3,000 photos (the vast majority of which depict breastfeeding). The group states:

"Facebook, we expect more from you, and we expect you to realize that nursing moms everywhere have a right to show pictures of their babies eating, just like bottle-fed babies have a right to be seen. In an effort to appease the closed-minded, you are only serving to be detrimental to babies, women, and society."

Facebook counters that it only removes those photos that violate its Content Code of Conduct, which states that "you may not post or share Content that... is obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit." And this is what is at the center of the debate: Who actually defines what is obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit? This is part of a much larger debate that has been raging for many years, and is often looked upon as a first amendment issue. The Washington Post reports that Facebook spokesperson Barry Schnitt commented on Facebook's policy as it relates specifically to photos of breastfeeding:

"We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and we're very glad to know that it is so important to some mothers to share this experience with others on Facebook... We take no action on the vast majority of breastfeeding photos because they follow the site's Terms of Use. Photos containing a fully exposed breast (as defined by showing the nipple or areola) do violate those Terms and may be removed. These policies are designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe, secure and trusted environment for all users, including the many children (over the age of 13) who use the site. The photos we act upon are almost exclusively brought to our attention by other users who complain."

If Schnitt's claim that most of the photos that are yanked are the result of user complaints, then it begs the question if there is any sort of review to deem if the photos are in fact violating Facebook's policy or if photos are just automatically pulled if someone complains? Also, do users have any sort of recourse if they feel a photo was pulled in error? This last weekend's protest in Palo Alto was prompted at least in part because Facebook didn't responded to the e-mail query of a Facebook user, Heather Farley, who's breastfeeding photos were pulled. Farley posted another breastfeeding photo and not only was it also pulled, but she additionally "received a letter threatening to delete her account." She says she felt "bullied" by Facebook and decided to coordinate the "nurse-in" protest in front of the Facebook headquarters.

This is not the first time that there has been an active protest about Facebook on Facebook. Earlier this year, many Facebook users who were unhappy with changes to the site's layout joined the Petition Against the "New Facebook" group, which garnered over 1.6 million members (which actually happens to be more than one percent of all of Facebook's users). The group also encouraged a temporary boycott of Facebook, asking users to not use the site over the October 18 - 19 weekend as a sign of protest against the site's design changes.

The Facebook layout protest did not result in any significant changes from Facebook. But while the breastfeeding photo issue has a smaller following on Facebook, it touches on moral, legal, and political issues that can have far-reaching impact beyond that of just Facebook users. There is no official word from Facebook yet if will make any changes to its policies as a result of this protest.
Tags:  Facebook