Breastfeeding Pictures Removed from Facebook, Spark Protests

One day in October, Sheri Farley of Provo, Utah, had a photo removed from the social networking website Facebook. The photo was of her breast-feeding her baby. Confused, she posted another photo and then received a letter from Facebook threatening to delete her account. Enranged, she went public with the incident. “I felt bullied,” said Farley, of Provo, Utah, who decided to protest while she was in California for the holidays visiting in-laws. Her challenge drew support from other Facebook critics and lactation advocates. Among the pickets Saturday were her mother-in-law, Heather Farley of Placer County, who breast-fed her eight children and now boasts that 19 of her 20 grandchildren have been nursed. Farley sent an email to Facebook asking why the photos were removed. Her letter was never answered.

Facebook’s removal of the pictures has now sparked a massive online debate. People have come to the networking giant to comment, argue, and protest what defines ‘too much exposure of a breast.’ Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said the website takes no action over most breast-feeding photos because they follow the site’s terms of use but others are removed to ensure the site remains safe and secure for all users, including children. “Photos containing a fully exposed breast (as defined by showing the nipple or areola) do violate those terms (on obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit material) and may be removed,” he said in a statement. “The photos we act upon are almost exclusively brought to our attention by other users who complain.”

Kelli Roman is another mother whose picture of herself breastfeeding her daughter was removed by Facebook. But this Roman is a force to be reckoned with. Roman is one of the administrators of an online petition called “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” which has picked up speed in the past week after protesters organized a virtual “nurse-in” on Facebook and held a small demonstration outside Facebook’s office in Palo Alto, California. A member of the Raging Grannies, the Midpeninsula activists who stage various theatrical protests, showed up to proclaim in song that “our breasts aren’t porn.” The petition has now attracted more than 80,000 names and over 10,000 comments, two dozen videos and nearly 3,000 photos of breast-feeding, while starting more than 1,500 discussion threads, reigniting the old debate about the beauty or indecency of breast-feeding in public.

Facebook, it seemed, was not removing them. Schnitt said the company had called many U.S. media groups during the course of the protest to ask to place an advert related to breast-feeding that showed a woman breast-feeding her child with a fully exposed breast. None agreed. “Obviously, a newspaper and Facebook are different things but the underlying motivation for the content policies are the same,” he told Reuters. Facebook, which has more than 120 million members, is standing by its decision.

One breast-feeding mother, called Rebekah, said Facebook removed a photograph of her feeding her child. “I find it offensive that (Facebook) can remove my photo but not the close up picture of a thonged backside I (have) seen on a friend’s page or remove the “what kama sutra position are you?” quiz application,” she wrote. Another Facebook user named Morgan writes: “i have seen pics of underage girls practically showing their nipples on here! why is this ok? i think its wonderful for a mother to want to show off her ability to naturally take care of her infant, on the other hand i think its disgusting and appalling to see a 13 year old girl making out with another girl and holding booze! but i guess this is not surprising since Facebook is ran by a man.”

An “official petition” to Facebook poses the question: “We’re wondering: what about a baby breastfeeding is obscene? Especially in comparison to MANY other pictures posted all over Facebook that really are obscene.”

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