Why Your Facebook Profile Isn't Really Yours

Case Study: 'Lactivists' Vs. Social Net's Privacy Policy

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Facebook has ticked off various constituencies over the years with its various new-product introductions and policies, but recently it has pushed the button of one group that advertisers have learned are a force to be reckoned with: online moms. Specifically, in this case, lactivists -- or breast-feeding advocates.

The group, "Hey Facebook, Breastfeeding Is Not Obscene," was formed in the summer of 2007 to protest Facebook's deletion of photos of breast-feeding moms and has spawned MILC -- or Mothers International Lactation Campaign. The Facebook group totaled 61,000 members on Dec. 22 but added 25,000 members in the past week after several mainstream news outlets picked up on a virtual protest MILC had planned. The protest, held last Saturday, involved nursing moms staging a "virtual nurse-in" outside Facebook's Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters and moms changing profile pictures to photos of women or animals nursing. According to the Facebook group, more than 11,000 people participated.

It's worth noting that 11,000 out of Facebook's 50.5 million November unique visitors, according to ComScore isn't much in terms of sheer numbers. Of course, neither was the number of Twittering moms that caused Johnson & Johnson to change its Motrin ads after its mom-focused ad offended them (though that could have just as well been a case of the marketer taking the quickest path to silence). Facebook may be less easily swayed -- it has yet to change its terms of service, which state that pictures exposing a full breast will be taken down.

And while I applaud exercises of free speech, here's the point I don't get: Facebook isn't saying photos of women breast-feeding won't be allowed on its site; it's saying only pictures that expose the full breast will be taken down -- whether they involve breast-feeding or baring it all to sell beer. It seems the biggest issue for breast-feeding activists is the implication that there's something sexual about breast-feeding, just as there's something sexual about using boobs to sell beer. On a personal level, I don't think there's anything sexual about it, but it does seem as though there's something intimate about it -- the sort of intimacy I wouldn't want to plaster all over Facebook, which is a public site, after all.

Regardless, it's a reminder that for as much time as people spend pimping out Facebook profiles, those profiles aren't yours and yours only. They're Facebook's, essentially. And Facebook's terms of service are in line with other media companies. When the St. Petersburg Times wrote about the protest, it noted that Facebook called the paper's advertising department and asked whether an ad could be placed related to breast-feeding that showed a woman with her breast fully exposed. It was told the ad would need to be reviewed and that such an image would not generally be allowed in the paper.

If you want to post photos of breast-feeding, then go start up your own website to do so. In fact, that's what MILC has done: It made a place to collect all the photos Facebook has removed.

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