Facebook ban of breast-feeding photos sparks protests

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Are photographs of a mother breast-feeding her child indecent? The social networking site Facebook has sparked a massive online debate -- and protests -- and after removing photos that expose too much of a mother’s breast.

A woman breast-feeds her baby in a file photo. The social networking site Facebook has sparked a massive online debate -- and protests -- and after removing photos that expose too much of a mother's breast. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said the website takes no action over most breast-feeding photos because they follow the site’s terms of use but others are 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.”

But Facebook’s decision to ban some breast-feeding photos has angered some users, including U.S. mother Kelli Roman whose photograph of her feeding her daughter was removed by Facebook.

Roman is one of the administrators of an online petition called “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” which has picked up speed in the past week after protesters organized a virtual “nurse-in” on Facebook and held a small demonstration outside Facebook’s office in Palo Alto, California.

The petition has now attracted more than 80,000 names and over 10,000 comments, reigniting the old debate about the rights or wrongs of breast-feeding in public.

Organizers of the petition said some women had been warned not to repost photographs that had been removed from their pages or they would face being kicked off Facebook.

One breast-feeding mother, called Rebekah, said Facebook removed a photograph of her feeding her child.

“I find it offensive that (Facebook) can remove my photo but not the close up picture of a thonged backside I (have) seen on a friend’s page or remove the “what kama sutra position are you?” quiz application,” she wrote.

Facebook, which has more than 120 million members, is standing by its decision.

Schnitt said the company had called many U.S. media groups during the course of the protest to ask to place an advert related to breast-feeding that showed a woman breast-feeding her child with a fully exposed breast. None agreed.

“Obviously, a newspaper and Facebook are different things but the underlying motivation for the content policies are the same,” he told Reuters.

Editing by Miral Fahmy