Moms Are in Your Facebook Over Virtual Breast Milk

Lactivist Emma Kwasnica talks up brick-and-mortar protests against online photo policy.

Mum Ellen Hunt feeds her 5-week-old girl Niamh during a breastfeeding flashmob in Brighton town center, southern England, December 15, 2011. About 50 mothers took part in the protest after a Brighton mother was vilified for openly breastfeeding in a local restaurant by other diners. (Photo: Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

Feb 9, 2012
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Lactating mothers in Austin, Texas, have taken their babes in arms and staged a nurse-in on the steps of Facebook’s local offices. The “lactivist” protest is in response to the UGC behemoth deleting breastfeeding photos posted by the women to their profile pages on the site.

Facebook’s terms of service prohibit nudity, but administrators claim to make exceptions for images of breastfeeding mothers, within reason. Or within what passes for reason at a multibillion-dollar social network: “On some occasions, breastfeeding photos contain nudity—for example an exposed breast that is not being used for feeding—and therefore violate our terms. When such photos are reported to us and are found to violate our policies, the person who posted the photo is contacted, and the photos are removed.”

The company admits that, due to a constant deluge of images reported as offensive, an occasional piece of content might be removed without the person who posted it being consulted.

Facebook is complicit in the bullying of breastfeeding women. Other users may point the gun, but Facebook pulls the trigger.

Among the nursing moms of Austin, there is a feeling that the summary takedown is as much Facebook policy as inadvertence.

Among the lactivist troops rallying against social media censorship is Vancouver mother Emma Kwasnica. Kwasnica is an active member of at least two Facebook pages: “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” and “FB! Stop harassing Emma Kwasnica over her breastfeeding pics.”

TakePart contacted the woman at the center of the milk storm, Emma Kwasnica—through her Facebook account—for the view from lactivist central.

TakePart: How did you come to organize all this uproar?
Emma Kwasnica:
First off, I did not have a hand in organizing the nurse-ins. They cropped up organically in response to Facebook censoring me, yet again. There are hundreds of women in my shoes. The nurse-ins involved many mothers to whom this had happened personally. Facebook blocking me was simply the catalyst for the nurse-ins.

TakePart: How many times has Facebook taken down your nursing photos?
Emma Kwasnica: In five years since joining FB, I have had more than 20 photos removed and my account disabled on four occasions. They inform you each time that a photo has been removed, but only recently do they tell you which one it is. They never once warned me prior to pulling the plug on my entire account, though. One time it was for 30 days—with no explanation, ever, from Facebook.

TakePart: Facebook says it removes photos after they have been reported as inappropriate. Do you know who, if anyone, is reporting your photos?
Emma Kwasnica: It does not matter who is reporting my breastfeeding images—Facebook has a clear written policy that supports the sharing of BF photos. Every single photo of mine has always adhered to FB’s policy, which you can read in the FAQ:

Does Facebook allow photos of mothers breastfeeding?

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...

Facebook is complicit in the bullying of breastfeeding women. Other users may point the gun, but Facebook pulls the trigger. It is always a Facebook employee who removes the photo, deciding if content is “obscene” enough to remove. It is clear to me that Facebook has now lost control of its network. If it cannot get its own employees to follow its own company policies, then what gives?

TakePart: Has the site ever acknowledged any fault?

Emma Kwasnica: They finally apologized publicly to me this last time around, but I believe it was only because I went to the media. They have never in the past responded to my pleas to stop harassing me. Why now, after five years of pleading with them, do they leave me alone? One thing is for sure: the “influential mom demographic” is not going to take this lying down.

TakePart: What is the importance of posting photos of nurslings?

Emma Kwasnica: No one sees very much of breastfeeding these days as women and children are not respected, generally speaking, in using their breasts to feed their children, as needed, in the public sphere. This fear of women's bodies, women's power, is nothing new. But it stigmatizes and shames breastfeeding women, and what for? Breastfeeding is a healthy and wonderful thing women are doing for their children! It is high time North America supported women who mother their children in the healthiest way possible. This is a public health issue. Women should be proud, and are proud, to share photos of themselves breastfeeding. These mums do not see breastfeeding as sexually explicit and are shocked that others would see anything obscene in nurturing one’s child at the breast.

Many women struggle to succeed at breastfeeding. Sharing these images makes them feel proud. Also, women seeing other women breastfeeding learn a lot about breastfeeding. Since we do not see it anymore in public, where else can Mum see it? The photos are fabulous educational tools, and Facebook, it would seem, agrees.

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