Facebook clarifies breastfeeding photo policy

Facebook has clarified its policy when it comes to photos of breastfeeding: only photos of babies actively nursing are allowed. Everything else is considered nudity and will be taken down if reported.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

Breastfeeding women yesterday launched a protest campaign against Facebook, using a Facebook Page, Facebook Group, and Facebook Note to organize against the social networking giant. They are hosting "nurse-ins" around the world, the goal of which is to have as many women as possible breastfeed outside their nearest Facebook office. The first protests were yesterday, and albums from at least six cities around the world were uploaded to Facebook, but more nurse-ins took place today, and more are scheduled for later this week. Facebook meanwhile has responded to my requests for a clarification on its breastfeeding photo policy.

Here's the answer I got back last night from a Facebook spokesperson:

Facebook is glad that mothers and their families – including many who work at Facebook – use our site to share their parenting experiences, including breastfeeding their children. By uploading photos, joining groups, and engaging with different organizations, these families are able to share and connect on a very important topic, and we are thrilled they are using Facebook to do so.

When it comes to uploaded photos on Facebook, the vast majority of breastfeeding photos comply with our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which closely mirrors the policy that governs broadcast television, and which places limitations on nudity due to the presence of minors on our site. 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. Our policies strive to fit the needs of a diverse community while respecting everyone¹s interest in sharing content that is important to them, including experiences related to breastfeeding.

It is important to note that any breastfeeding photos that are removed – whether inappropriately or in accordance with our policies – are only done so after being brought to our attention by other Facebook users who report them as violations and subsequently reviewed by Facebook.

Facebook receives hundreds of thousands of reports every week, and as you might expect, occasionally we make a mistake and remove a piece of content we shouldn't. When this happens, we work quickly to address it by apologizing to the people affected and making any necessary changes to our processes to ensure the same type of mistakes do not continue to be made. We encourage people to re-upload the photos they believe were removed in error.

Facebook first started removing breastfeeding pictures back in 2008. The social networking giant said it was worried about allowing pictures of breasts on a site where the minimum age is 13-years-old. Eventually, this morphed into Facebook seemingly having a problem with the female nipple, or at least that's what I thought last year when Facebook banned a breast cancer survivor over a nude photo.

It turns out I was wrong. As Facebook's statement notes, the company has no problem with a woman's breast and/or nipple as long as the photo includes a nursing baby. If Facebook receives complaints about a woman's breast being exposed and breastfeeding is not happening, the company enforces its policy and removes the photo. That being said, the company also admitted that it makes mistakes, and this is probably what is pissing off so many breastfeeding women.

For example, as I've already noted, Emma Kwasnica says Facebook has wrongfully removed numerous pictures and blocked her account four times for posting breastfeeding photos. 30 of her pictures have been flagged as inappropriate. The problem is that for public pictures, anyone can report them, although in the end Facebook employees decide what is and what isn't allowed.

Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities still doesn't mention breastfeeding. On the other hand, it turns out that the Facebook Help Center does have an entry titled "Does Facebook allow photos of mothers breastfeeding?" Here's the answer:

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 them.

Photos that show a fully exposed breast where the child is not actively engaged in nursing do violate Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. These policies are based on the same standards which apply to television and print media.

It is important to note that photos which we act upon are almost exclusively brought to our attention by other users who complain about them being shared on Facebook.

That's much more succinct than the clarification I received, and is probably what I'm going to be referring to from now on. I say this because I don't think this battle is quite over: Facebook's Report This Photo feature isn't perfect, and it is often abused.

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