Breastfeeding protest at Facebook in Dublin

Tue, Feb 7, 2012, 00:00

AN UNUSUAL sight unfolded at Hanover Quay, Dublin, yesterday morning, when a group of parents gathered outside Facebook’s European headquarters. A gaggle of toddlers dutifully holding on to their mothers’ coats with one hand grasped protest signs with the other.

Protesters assembled at more than 30 locations worldwide at 10am yesterday to oppose Facebook’s policy regarding the removal of images of breastfeeding from the social networking website.

Irish protesters stood their ground for two hours to highlight the fact Facebook is removing photos that do not violate Facebook’s terms. Moreover, parents urged that Facebook’s censorship reflects a disturbing trend stigmatising breastfeeding in public.

“Some might ask why would a mother want to post a picture of herself breastfeeding on Facebook. And the only question I can ask you back is, ‘Why wouldn’t she’?” said Chris Finn, a representative from Friends of Breastfeeding, an advocacy group in Ireland.

“We’re here to stand up and say that our nation’s attitude towards breastfeeding needs to change. Why? Because breastfeeding is just the biologically normal way to feed a baby, and the only way to make a change is if we see breastfeeding,” Ms Finn said.

Facebook says it supports users posting photographs of breastfeeding but will only allow pictures in which a baby is “actively engaged” in nursing.

It says it may remove any content or images that violate its statement of rights and responsibilities.

As well as content that is sexually suggestive, hateful, threatening, pornographic, incites violence or contains graphic or gratuitous violence, Facebook’s terms prohibit nudity. Therefore, images containing a fully exposed breast are deemed to violate those terms of user safety.

“These policies are based on the same standards that apply to television and print media. We agree that breastfeeding is natural and we are very glad to know that it is important for mothers, including the many mothers who work at Facebook, to share their experience with others on the site,” the statement read.

With more than 800 million users worldwide, some as young as 13 years old, Facebook says it must impose certain limitations on nudity, striking a balance with personal expression, “even though that is not always convenient or acceptable to all audiences”.

In its statement, Facebook also stressed that almost all images removed by its user operations team were reported by other Facebook users.

The team, which is based in four offices across the globe, monitors Facebook content 24 hours a day. When content is reported to Facebook, the team must review it solely based upon the statement of rights and responsibilities.

Due to the wide scope of this enforcement network, some protesters say photographs are removed due to a flaw in Facebook’s internal communication.

“I was in Mothercare and I was told I wasn’t allowed to feed in there,” said Gabrielle Ferguson Clarke, one of the mothers protesting in Dublin. “It was the staff that was not properly trained; management was horrified. I think it’s the same issue with Facebook.”