Facebook’s Removal of Breastfeeding Pictures: Racist or Arbitrary?

Facebook has been making news and raising ire for removing breastfeeding photos since late 2008. I have been writing about the protests here and in the late Mothering magazine. Facebook did announce the standard it would be using to decide whether a breastfeeding image is “obscene” and thus would be removed. I wrote about that in “It’s All About the Areola.” According to the official statement from Facebook, “visible areola” is the determining factor in which image is obscene. Yes, I think the standard is absurd but at least it isn’t arbitrary.

Or is it? Facebook does not seem to be following its own areola rule. Yesterday, Earth Mama Organics reported that one of two breastfeeding images had been removed from its Facebook page. In comparing the two images, Earth Mama suggests that the reason this image was targeted is because the mother is black.

Hmm. No visible areola. So Facebook is not following its own rule. Why this picture then?

The procedure for removal of Facebook image begins with someone reporting an image as inappropriate. Facebook has neither the time nor inclination to troll its site looking for breastfeeding pictures. So I think it is unlkely some barely post-pubescent Stanford grad in Palo Alto gave this image a whole lot of thought. As the owner of Earth Mama points out on her blog, the other breastfeeding image in the same Facebook page is of a white woman and was not removed. What stood out to me about that other image is that areola is visible.

So black woman showing no areola is obscene and white woman showing areola is not. It is possible this was entirely arbitrary. Someone reported the image of the black woman but not the image of the white woman. Perhaps that disputes an allegation of racism on the part of Facebook. But one then has to wonder why someone viewing a page with both images reported one and not the other. And I have to agree, the most obvious distinction is race. The racist (conscious or not) is whoever reported the image. Someone out there is more uncomfortable with the image of a black woman breastfeeding than a white woman who is breastfeeding (with areola exposed).

Thoughts? Is the race theory paranoia? Is the removal of this particular image saying more about those who use Facebook than those who run it? Discuss (respectfully please). [Thanks to Earth Mama for permission to use the image]