17 September 2007

Facebook's worst nightmare, part II

Facebook has a new worst nightmare. Scoble brought this article to my attention.
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.


Christina said...

So far, the petition group on Facebook doesn't seem to be making much of a difference. Facebook is staying quiet for the moment.

I wrote about the breastfeeding issue on my blog. I had no idea there were that many pro-ana sites there, though. Talk about misplaced priorities...

If you don't mind, here's my link to the topic:

Anonymous said...

There have been a lot of good posts on this topic, but the best one so far, http://tinyurl.com/3adozq

Mom101 said...

Excellent points David. I wasn't aware of the anorexia aspect, which is pretty scary. I'd rather my daughters grow up looking at pictures of nursing moms than girls who never can be because their body fat is in the -10% range.

The funny thing is, aside from the random lactation fetishist (they exist - check my sitemeter for google searches sometime) no one's going to Facebook to gawk at nursing phoots. As your wife put it, there's far too many other more appealing photos if it's sexuality you're after.

Motherhood Uncensored said...

They're idiots.

And I'll be telling them so very soon.

Julie Marsh said...

Excellent point regarding the larger issue of the role of traffic cop. Facebook's inconsistencies are frustrating enough in themselves; I'm even more concerned by the continuing discussion of Internet-wide censorship (and the inherent policing that would entail).

PunditMom said...

Inconsistencies that we've seen with the FCC for example? Free speech, it seems to me, is the red herring. This is about men's entertainment vs. women and children's health.

Julie Pippert said...

Making sure I have this straight per Facebook et al:

* if I bare my boobs to be sexy, catch a man, or sell something = okay.

* if it is known that a baby is attached to my breast or a small amount of breast region is exposed (less than a tank top by my experience because baby's head is a pretty good shield) = obscene

I'm disgusted. I'll work my way up to a post.

Using My Words

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh dear god.

I was so pissed, I had to post about.

Christine said...

i am so mad about this i can't express myself. like i said at lawyer mama's place--someone needs to throw a blanket over bill mahr's head next time he eats in public.

Tere said...

Great post, thanks for writing about this. My own post will be up this evening.

Unknown said...

umm, didn't myspace do this just a few months ago? Does it never stop?

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! What are coming to these days.

I linked to you today in my post, just thought you should know.

Brillig said...

Great post. Here via Lawyer Mama's rant.

Stock market basics said...

ok. nice only. every son must read it.