Facebook is getting an online scolding after the social networking site deleted pictures of nursing babies it considered "obscene content" and closed the account of at least one Canadian mom.
Lest we forget, the Canadian media brings this to light once again:
A search for anorexia-related Facebook groups generates a list of 384, while a search for "pro-ana" reveals more than 350 groups, some with more than 1,000 members.
This is just my opinion: Facebook's deafening silence on the issue of 350 pro-anorexia groups on its network, combined with its selective enforcement of "obscenity" rules to ban breastfeeding pictures presents a profoundly disturbing disconnect.
The medical community is clear: anorexia nervosa is a disease, and not a lifestyle choice, that affects women disproportionately. Obviously, breastfeeding is a task that falls to women. Facebook has come down on both sides of a "free speech issue" here - once clamping down, once letting speech and organizing go - and in each case it's come down in a way that arguably sets women back.
Whether the administrators at Facebook like it or not, they're the defacto traffic cops for an enormous amount of communication. One mistake is probably just that. Two mistakes is a track record.
No one will ever be perfect when they're stuck with the job of deciding which speech (and activity) to allow and which to reject. But it would appear one could do a better job than this. Facebook has a lot of explaining to do - not simply on breastfeeding, not simply on anorexia, but on how its leaders' decisions play in a larger context of women's issues.
To be fair to Facebook, they may not have been asked about the pro-ana issue (though I tend to doubt it). They aren't quoted in the Canadian article, and I don't remember seeing them quoted in the BBC piece either. I'd love an email from them explaining this, and I'd be happy to print it, verbatim, on this blog. There are also plenty of pictures of breastfeeding moms on Facebook, and plenty of pro-breastfeeding groups.
I live near the latest epicenter on the breastfeeding issue, so maybe I'm thinking about it a little more than I might. My wife, a women's health expert, raised another important point about this about this over the weekend - there are a lot of pictures that are far more sexually suggestive on Facebook than anything people have banned in this situation. A LOT of pictures. A LOT worse.
This whole dustup also shows how people who use social media engage on important societal issues. Over 17 thousand people joined the facebook protest group, 7000 in the last week. We've seen the potential here to organize thousands around an issue - it was sparked by a single event, covered by mainstream media, and grew super-fast.
Now we'll see what difference it makes.