Facebook ban incurs 'lactivist' wrath

From TheAge
Asher Moses
September 7, 2007 - 2:00PM

Thousands of Facebook members are on the warpath after the social networking site removed images of breastfeeding mums and banned others for posting "obscene content".

They call themselves "lactivists" and say Facebook's practices are discriminatory.

Facebook's hardline stance on what its members can publish on their profiles is somewhat hypocritical given that it was caught running an image of a topless model in a banner ad for a dating service.

The mothers, many from Australia, started a petition in the form of a Facebook group called "Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!". The group now has almost 7000 members.

"Absolutely it is discriminatory and it makes me angry," said group member Pru Wirth, a mother of two from the central coast in NSW.

"If actual venues can be fined up to $40,000 for asking breastfeeding mums to cover up or move on, then why not a virtual public place?"

Another group member, Sally Millwood, from Petrie in Queensland, said: "I know from first hand experience breastfeeding can be a tough road to go down and, if you have success at the end of it, it's an amazingly proud and important achievement to be shared."

Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin said Facebook - which has more than 200,000 Australian members and 31 million users worldwide - did not prevent mothers from uploading photos of themselves breastfeeding their babies, but it did remove content that was reported as violating Facebook's terms of use.

"Photos containing an exposed breast do violate our Terms and are removed," she said.

It's not clear what constitutes an "exposed breast", which has the lactivists baffled.

Facebook did not respond to emails requesting further clarification but several group members have reported that their images were removed despite the fact they contained no nipple.

"Where does the feeding stop and the boob begin?? A peek of nipple?," one lactivist wrote.

Wirth, who is yet to have one of her own images removed, rejected Facebook's justification, saying there was a "real difference" between a user uploading their own images of their own body and Facebook themselves violating their own terms of use for profit.

"Regarding the case of the inappropriate banner ad that was posted, we have since removed the ad as it was a violation of our Terms of Use," said Chin.

In addition to removing particular photos from the site, Facebook has permanently revoked the membership of some of the mothers.

When one, Karen Speed, appealed and asked to have her account reinstated, Facebook said its decision was "final".

"We will not be able to reactivate your account for any reason," read Facebook's reply, published by Speed on her blog.

Wirth said it was important Facebook reconsidered its policy because it was restricting users from "sharing a normal part of our lives and our babies' lives".

She said Facebook had adequate privacy settings that allowed users to restrict access to their images.

"I can't see how sharing photos of your baby feeding with friends and family, or anyone really, could be deemed obscene," she said.

"If breastfeeding was done publicly more often it would just be the normal done thing, not something women should feel ashamed about, and it certainly wouldn't receive this kind of offensive reaction."

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