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Facebook's Anti-breastfeeding Censorship

posted Nov 10, 2013, 10:51 AM by Carolyn Honea, IBCLC, CLC   [ updated Nov 11, 2013, 1:17 PM ]
As a mother of four children, I have spent 7 years breastfeeding in all kinds of public places - restaurants, parks, stores, trains, museums, churches, doctor's offices, soccer fields - you name it! Anywhere my babies and I go, there we shall breastfeed. And up until a few weeks ago, I managed to avoid all the negative confrontations that breastfeedingThe post Facebook censored mothers sometimes experience. Perhaps my discreet and nonchalant style of breastfeeding has shielded me from even noticing the looks of strangers. But on October 25, my previously uneventful experiences as a breastfeeding mom collided head on with society's lack of acceptance of breastfeeding as a normal, natural way of feeding an infant. Ironically, this didn't happen as I was breastfeeding my child in a public place, but rather as I tried to reach out to offer other mothers support on my professional Facebook page. I attempted to promote (a form of advertisement) one of my posts to ensure that all the people who have "liked" my Facebook page could see it. There were no pictures, just a very basic text (see screenshot right).

During the ad screening process, one of Facebook's monitors declined it and compared it to an advertisement for "adult products and services, including toys, videos, or sexual enhancement products." Again, there were no pictures, only text asking people to share my Lactation Counseling page. I was shocked, but thought surely this must be some kind of mistake. Perhaps an automated screening caught the word "breast" and censored it. Yet this seemed unlikely, considering the amount of outright pornographic and sexual material available on Facebook. I followed their appeal process, consisting of filling out a basic form that requests them to take a second look. Hours later, I received an email from them. They stood their ground, insisting that my post contained sexual adult content (screenshot below).
Facebook maintains that breastfeeding fits in the sexual services category

Now, I was not just shocked - I was outraged! It wasn't the inability to promote my page that had me so upset, but that Facebook would take the perverse, ignorant and damaging perspective of considering breastfeeding sexual. By restricting page owners from being able to reach breastfeeding moms, Facebook is preventing millions of mothers (not just linked to my page, but all other breastfeeding related pages and groups) from getting the support women need to have a positive, successful breastfeeding experience. Everyone knows "breast is best" - and yet many women report that once they actually begin breastfeeding, they receive very little helpful support or encouragement to persevere through the challenges and feel affirmation for what they are doing. That is where social media comes in - offering discouraged or isolated moms the ability to connect with other breastfeeding mothers and learn about options for help, such as my lactation counseling services. And yet, Facebook has a long history of censoring not just revealing pictures of breastfeeding, but even the very topic and category of breastfeeding.

Furthermore, by censoring breastfeeding, Facebook is only exacerbating the warped view of breastfeeding held by a significant portion of society. The more often the general public is exposed to breastfeeding in everyday experiences, the sooner people will stop thinking of it as something unusual or sexual. It will be just as accepted as the mother feeding her baby a bottle on a bench in the mall; a normal, everyday experience that nobody thinks twice about. Truly, there is something very perverse and creepy about Facebook lumping breastfeeding in with pornography and sexual services.  Thankfully, thousands of people who commented on and shared my screenshot (top right) of Facebook's censorship had the same reaction I did. The time has come for Facebook to publicly apologize to mothers and breastfeeding support persons around the world, and humbly invite a committee of breastfeeding specialists to train their content monitors how to interpret and approach breastfeeding. If we really believe what research has shown about the risks of formula and the necessity of breastfeeding to a mother and child's well being, then its time for society to change the way we think about and support breastfeeding mothers. We can do do this not by pressuring women to breastfeed, but by welcoming breastfeeding moms into the light and publicly offering them affirmation and practical support - without allowing remnants of cultural squeamishness to dictate the conversation.

If you want to stand up with mothers, babies, and their support teams for breastfeeding to be accepted and welcomed as a normal, natural way of nurturing infants, "like" the page FB vs Breastfeeding and join their alliance. Share these stories with your friends so we can continue to put pressure on Facebook to change their policies and attitudes toward breastfeeding.

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