Emma Kwasnica had a phone conference with a team of facebook employees the other day to talk about facebook policy and what they could change. Here is what Emma wrote about the call.
I went into yesterday’s conference call feeling hopeful, but also being realistic. It proved to be the right attitude.
Facebook had heard me out on a few concerns, and had already conceded some improvements in their actual written policy on breastfeeding images: using the word “child” instead of “infant”, replacing “nursing” with “breastfeeding” (in the UK, in NZ and in AUS, to nurse a baby simply means to hold him/her).
The rest of the policy (which can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=340974655932193) remains unchanged. After one hour on the phone conference call, and trying every angle I knew, I did not succeed in getting these Facebook Team members to see the importance of exempting *all* breastfeeding images from being considered "nudity", nor did I succeed in convincing them that the context of a breastfeeding image should be clear enough, and that there is no need to stipulate in their written policy which kind of breastfeeding images are acceptable. Facebook has reseverved the right to judge some breastfeeding photos inappropriate (such as photos where the breast is fully exposed and the child is not actively engaged in nursing [from that breast]). As a woman, mother, and breastfeeding advocate and educator, this is deeply troubling to me. As but one example, there are amazing educational opportunities to be had when we SEE images of skin-to-skin breastfeeding, and since this may involve the other breast being visible in its entirety, Facebook Team members yesterday made it very clear that such images do risk removal, as they will be considered as “nudity” by the Facebook employees making the judgment calls/removing the photos.
The second part of the conference call was concerning Facebook’s practice. That is to say, the actions that Facebook employees take against breastfeeding images and the users who post them. We talked at length about how Facebook could right the current wrongs and it was immediately clear that Facebook feels it is impossible for them to give breastfeeding photos a status separate from images considered to be “sexually explicit”/“nudity”/“pornography”. Despite Facebook’s clear policy supporting the sharing of breastfeeding images, Facebook has confirmed that errors (that is, deletions of photos and the blocking of user accounts) will continue. Facebook said this is due to the human factor, as Facebook employees have a different sensitivity to indecency, partly because of their written policy that stipulates what kind of breastfeeding images are allowed, and partly because of "cultural sensitivities". Facebook Team members from yesterday's conference call have assured me that a memo has been sent out to the User Operations Team members (those who make the judgment call and decide which photos must be removed) regarding the existence of Facebook's policy on breastfeeding images and a reminder about how Facebook does support the sharing of such photos on their website. However, this morning I learned of another deletion before I even had my cup of coffee.
On the positive aspects, Facebook has offered to look into the possibility of designating staff members to work on correcting the errors made regarding breastfeeding images and user accounts being wrongfully blocked. They have also offered to look into the possibility to change the wording of the warning message a user receives when a breastfeeding image is removed, by using “nudity” instead of “sexually explicit content”. This is still not what I would like, but Facebook has made it clear that they will not move from their position that there are some images of breastfeeding where they may consider “nudity” to be present. They will get back to me within a week with an answer on these points.
We were not able to come to any agreement on how Facebook should respond when photos of breastfeeding women come to its attention. Facebook is unwilling to accept its complicity in harassment, bullying and intimidation when people bring breastfeeding photos to their attention and they respond first by deleting photos and/or blocking users out of their accounts. There is a segment of society that delights in creating dissent and havoc in chat forums for breastfeeding women, in the comments sections of news reports and blogs, and on Facebook. You only have to spend a few minutes in the comments section of the Facebook page set up to further this cause (http://www.facebook.com/StopHarassingKwasnicaAndALLBreastfeedingWomen) to see the hate and vitriol that is spewed by these people. I have endured truly awful and degrading remarks from many, many people because I chose to go public with this issue. Facebook is actively encouraging this behaviour by rewarding it. These Facebook users point the gun, but it is Facebook that is pulling the trigger. Facebook’s inability to control its own staff and its continued support of this portion of its user base is contributing to the climate of fear and shame around breastfeeding and the women who do it.
There is no point in putting on a brave face and pretending I am pleased with the end result of the conference call yesterday, for I am not. In fact, last night I was in a pit of despair over Facebook’s inability to end the harassment of breastfeeding women. It is obvious to me now that Facebook really has lost control of their network, especially when their written policy clearly states they support the sharing of breastfeeding images, yet they say they cannot control the actions of their employees who are continuing to remove breastfeeding images and block accounts of the users who post them -- most all of it “in error.” This is exasperating to me.
I am now calling on all breastfeeding women who use Facebook to voice their concerns to Facebook about this issue. I cannot do it alone, as I am but one woman raising her voice. I am in the process of acquiring a passport for my youngest daughter and will be booking a flight to California to stand in solidarity with my peers at the nurse-in scheduled at the main Facebook HQ on Monday, February 6th in Menlo Park, CA. On that day, I will also be standing in solidarity with hundreds of other breastfeeding women the world over, who are all convening at the various Facebook HQ locations around the world to send Facebook the clear message that breastfeeding images must be left alone, just as the harassment of Facebook users who post them must end. Nurse-ins are confirmed for: Sydney, Australia (on Feb. 7th, to coincide with the other nurse-ins on the 6th); London, UK; Dublin, Ireland; Paris, France; Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; New York, New York; Prineville, Oregon; Menlo Park, California; Los Angeles, California; Toronto, Ontario; and possibly Seoul, South Korea; Madrid, Spain; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Seattle, Washington. There are other Facebook HQ locations for which nurse-ins have yet to be organized throughout the United States and in many other countries around the world (please see the list, here: http://www.facebook.com/notes/fb-stop-harassing-emma-kwasnica-over-her-breastfeeding-pics/locations-for-facebook-nurse-in/324817760874621).
Please also consider changing your profile photo, right today (and leave it up through to the date of the nurse-in), to one of an image of breastfeeding, remembering that Facebook’s written policy *does* support the sharing of breastfeeding images. It is time now to use the powerful tool that is social media to celebrate breastfeeding and the women and children who do it, to remember why SEEING breastfeeding is so important, and to put and end to any further stigmatizing of such an innate, joyful aspect of mammalian mothering.
January 19, 2012