Facing increasing pressure from feminists and breastfeeding advocates, Facebook has loosened its policies on photos of mothers breastfeeding their babies. The unexpected change means the wide-ranging #FreeTheNipple online movement won its latest battle in the war against eliminating stigma on mothers who breastfeed their children in public and reduce female censorship in media.
Although Facebook has never explicitly banned pictures of breastfeeding women from being posted in the news feed, the social network has always been known for removing photos of mothers breastfeeding their babies and patients who have undergone mastectomy, citing "nudity and pornography" as reasons for removing the photos, even if they were not sexual in nature.
But Facebook seems to have had a change of heart, saying that it has "always allowed breastfeeding photos" and it knows that breastfeeding is a "natural and beautiful" experience that mothers would like to share with the world.
The new policy does not mean all photos exposing the nipples will not be reviewed. As Facebook's updated community guidelines page shows, moderators will still be reviewing photos submitted for removal by users who think a certain photo should be posted on Facebook, which means Facebook will still remove overtly sexual photos if users complain about them.
"What we have done is modified the way we review reports of nudity to help us better examine the context of the photo or image," a spokesperson for Facebook told CNET. "As a result of this, photos that show a nursing mother's other breast will be allowed even if it is fully exposed as will mastectomy photos showing a fully exposed other breast."
To test if Facebook would adhere to its policy shift, parenting blogger Paala Secor shared a photo of her breastfeeding her baby to more than 4,000 Facebook followers.
"Facebook: You say you allow breastfeeding mothers to share their photos without cropping out their nipples? Prove it," Secor wrote, along with the hashtag #FreeTheNipple.
Secor said the photo was removed less than 24 hours after posting it, but Facebook has apologized through personal message and put the photo back up. Secor is also currently testing with a second photo, noting that her first photo keeps being taken down with what appears to be Facebook's bots. This indicates that while Facebook has announced its change of heart, some of the social network's moderators must not yet have been updated about it.
Apparently, Facebook still has a few wrinkles to smooth out, but feminists and supporters of breastfeeding are happy to claim their victory, shaky it might have been.
"I think it's pretty late in the day for Facebook to have made this change in policy but of course I am happy with it," said Chrissy Chittenden, founder of Attachment Feminism. "It made no sense that something which can be done in a café or a mall or a forest without recrimination would then be censored on social media, so the decision by Facebook to switch their policy is brilliant."