Facebook had one of its nipple-related related brainstorms last week, banning, unbanning, then re-banning breastfeeding support group, The Leaky Boob.
The Leaky Boob group allows almost 11,000 mothers to share their experiences on breastfeeding – as well as providing casual visitors with a treasure trove of advice and tips. Well, it would do, if Facebook didn’t keep deleting it – as they did the previous weekend.
This provoked an angry reaction from the tens of thousands of women who use the page for information and support.
On Tuesday, according to group founder Jessica Martin-Weber, the page was back up.
On Wednesday it was gone again.
Then, later in the day, it returned and is still up today.
On both occasions, Martin-Weber claimed that she had received the same form letter explaining how the site had been deleted "for violating the terms of service".
In addition, she blogged angrily of how "Several "Leakies" .. had their accounts disabled after receiving warnings for supposed obscene photos. Just like TLB, they received the non-specific form letter via email informing them that their accounts had been deleted for violating the terms of service.
Martin-Weber said that these individuals, "along with numerous other group and business pages", have had their accounts deactivated "because someone decided that their breastfeeding photo or information was vulgar".
Judy P Masucci, president and owner of online business "A Mother’s Boutique" also had her Facebook page shut down last summer. Writing on her own site, Masucci urged readers to write to Facebook and "respectfully ask that breastfeeding support groups be treated with respect and be exempt from the 'rules' Facebook has about posting words like 'breast' or showing photos that might have a little breast exposed in them".
She adds: "These sites provide invaluable resources to moms."
Meanwhile, Martin-Weber said there was nothing on her page that would compare with the content of sites such as Facebook’s Playboy page. She adds: "The first media coverage I could find on this problem dates back to 2007. You would think Facebook would get tired of this and make some necessary changes. Four years is long enough: fix it."
By way of response, Facebook issued a statement which read: "Our reviewers look at tens of thousands of pieces of content a day that are reported to them and take action according to our policies, which are designed to ensure Facebook remains a safe and trusted environment for everyone, including the many children (under the age of 13)* who use the service.
"Of course, we make an occasional mistake. This is an example. When this happens, and it’s brought to our attention, we work quickly to resolve the issue. In this case, we restored the page and reactivated the accounts of the people who were impacted. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this mistake caused."
Previous mistakes of this sort have led to Facebook being condemned in influential newspapers such as the Guardian and New York Times – and the NYT were quick to pick this story up again.
It seems that Facebook reviewers have no system in place warning each other not to "re-delete" groups which have already been deleted and "undeleted". The commercial threat is clear: it cannot be good for their business model if the social network is disorganised and arbitrary in its appraisal of what is obscene and what is not. And cracking down on nursing mothers is hardly good PR for the site... ®
Oh dear: a small typo over at the Facebook press office almost gave us our first highly embarrassing social networking scoop of 2011. However, it would appear that when Facebook refer to the “many children (under the age of 13)” who use their service, they actually meant “OVER the age of 13”. Glad to put that right.