Nearly since Facebook began there has been debate about the posting of photos depicting breastfeeding on the social networking site. Many mothers have had photos of themselves with their breastfeeding babies removed from the site and some have found their accounts temporarily suspended as a punitive warning not to post these photos that have been deemed inappropriate or obscene. There are numerous groups on Facebook protesting this application of their obscenity policy, including “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene! (Official petition to Facebook)” which, as of the writing of this article, has over 258,000 members. Numerous other groups have sprung up since.
There have been a number of women that have publicly challenged Facebook’s policy and received a great deal of media attention. In December 2008, in response to the removal of a photo of her nursing her daughter from her profile, a Provo, Utah mother named Heather Farley organized a physical nurse-in at the Palo Alto offices of Facebook. There was also a virtual nurse-in on Facebook when, according to Farley, more than 11,000 user changed their profile photo to one showing breastfeeding. (It is worth noting that some of those women received warnings or had those photos removed.)
The removal of breastfeeding photos has happened to countless numbers of Facebook users. Some have received letters of apology from Facebook, stating that the photo was removed in error. In 2012, Emma Kwansica, a Vancouver mother, renewed the debate. Although Facebook eventually did apologize, they continue, as of the writing of this article, to raid various postings and photos on Kwansica’s account and on the pages of groups and individuals in support of the cause.
On Facebook’s Site:
"Does Facebook allow photos of mothers nursing infants?
Yes. We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, and we're very glad to know that it is important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook. The vast majority of these photos are compliant with our policies, and we will not take action on them.
Photos that show a fully exposed breast where a baby is not actively engaged in nursing do violate Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. These policies are based on the same standards which apply to television and print media.
It is important to note that photos which we act upon are almost exclusively brought to our attention by other users who complain about them being shared on Facebook."
I would define this to mean that if a baby is attached to the breast, nursing, the photo is acceptable, regardless of the amount of breast that is shown, which could, and likely would include, some visible areola. In general though, I would assume that Facebook would expect at least some part of the nipple to be covered by the baby’s mouth since they specify that the baby should be “actively engaged.” For general sharing of breastfeeding photos, I have no objection to this definition. However, I would note that it would preclude the sharing of many potential instructional photos regarding latching or breastfeeding assistance as the baby attaches to or detaches from the breast. I would encourage Facebook to consider more specifically the context of the photo in relation to nursing more so than the amount of skin displayed.
It is important to note that I am more accepting of this policy than some. I do acknowledge that there are many beautiful photos of breastfeeding that would involve a fully exposed breast, such as a smiling baby, just unlatched, locking eyes with his or her mother. I have several photos of this nature, but I am not comfortable sharing them publicly, even with my Facebook friends, where other mothers might. But I do not personally take issue with Facebook defining breastfeeding photos as depicting active breastfeeding, so long as this is defined broadly outside of, as they state, a fully exposed breast without an attached baby.
What troubles me most about their statement is the mention of user complaints. I do not see how this is relevant. Who cares if people object to the photo, provided it follows the community standards? The assumption of many who are concerned with Facebook’s removal of photos is that there is an automatic process involved that removes them without human confirmation. If true, this is unacceptable. Identification and removal of photos that are considered obscene should not be based upon user complaint, and at minimum should require confirmation by a live person clear on the standards relating to breastfeeding. The practice of removing posts referring to such removals or debate of the issue of their policy, as in Kwansica’s case is also reprehensible and cowardly.
Facebook’s policy is, in my opinion, acceptable. However, their inconsistent application of their policy, seemingly instigated by uniformed user complaint is ridiculous. My admiration goes to those women who have brought attention to this issue as a result of such experiences. I would encourage women to continue to post breastfeeding photos consistent with their policy as desired and to challenge any removals. However, I would note that taunting Facebook with photos that clearly violate that policy in the interest of sparking debate may be counter-productive and encourage Facebook to continue to treat breastfeeding photos as potentially problematic.
UPDATE: According to Emma Kwansica, who finally spoke to a live person at Facebook, removals *are* confirmed by a live person. She has been invited by Facebook to particpate in a conference call discussing how these decisions are made and how to prevent inapporpriate removals. Hopefully, progress...
For beautiful photographs of breastfeeding in an instructional guide see "Breastfeeding with Comfort and Joy" (my full review of this book) is linked below: