Protest as Facebook removes breastfeeding photos

A mass online protest movement is gathering pace after Facebook banned some breastfeeding photos from the social network site.

Angry mothers even picketed the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, in a live "nurse-in" to complain about a ban on photos of mothers suckling their children that exposed too much of the mother's breast. Hundreds of women have had their pictures removed without warning and have been informed that they may be barred from using the site.

More than 80,000 people have joined a Facebook petition group "Hey Facebook, Breast-feeding is not Obscene" with hundreds joining every hour. More than 11,000 women from around the world have also taken part in an online "nurse-in" protest on Saturday by posting more breastfeeding pictures. The protest's organisers reported that many have since had these photos removed from the site.

Facebook has said that it has no problem with breastfeeding but photos that showed nipples or aureolae were indecent and had to be removed.

Barry Schnitt, a Facebook spokesman, said the website takes no action over most breast-feeding photos because they follow the site's terms of use.

"We agree that breast-feeding 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.'' But, he added, some photos were 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."

Patricia Madden, from San Jose, had a photograph of her breastfeeding her daughters Zoe and Isobel removed from the site. The birth doula, who encourages new mothers to breast-feed, was photographed by her husband while feeding in the bathtub.

"It's amazing to me that we're living in a world where people are upset by this,'' she said. "You can't see my nipples. It's completely legal to breast-feed in public. Breast-feeding is completely natural and healthy. They took off the photo, without my permission," she told the San Jose Mercury News.

The live protest in Palo Alto, under the banner of the Mothers International Lactation Campaign, attracted a handful of mothers and supporters who picketed peacefully, armed with suckling children and placards.

It is legal to breastfeed in public in most states in America and in many countries around the world including Britain but Facebook's terms of service give it the right to remove content that it deems it to be inappropriate. Campaigners say that breastfeeding is natural and healthy and should be not bracketed with pornography. Facebook's stance demeans and stigmatises women, they say.

Heather Farley, 23, of Provo, Utah, said she was surprised when Facebook took down two photos of her nursing her 6-month-old daughter, one of which was her profile picture. She became of the protest's organisers. She said: "Where I live, I can breast-feed in public or private, and there are laws that say it's not obscene or lewd or indecent. If I can do it in public, why can't I do it on Facebook?"

Censoring such images, she said, reinforces stigmas that discourage mothers from a healthy, natural practice. Angry at the site, but not wanting to lose her online friend network by unsubscribing, she decided to take action.

The online petition on Facebook, which has more than 120 million members around the world, has sparked a furious debate with more than 1,500 discussion topics on the petition's homepage. Most comments are supportive but some ask why, if breastfeeding mothers don't like being censored on Facebook, they don't join another free site which does allow them to post their pictures.
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