Saturday, February 28, 2009

Face Off: Lactivists Shut Down by Facebook Dirty Tricks

On February 10, I wrote about the run away success of the first Virtual Nurse-In, again protesting Facebook’s removal of breastfeeding photos that the administration had deemed ‘obscene.’ Last Saturday was the follow up Nurse-In and came with surprises that no one could have anticipated.

On Monday morning, I logged into the Mothers International Lactation Campaign (MILC) event page and scrolled down to find the attendees for the Saturday Nurse-In to write this column. I was aghast to find the number clocked at 4,181. I did a double take – thinking somehow the numbers had not been updated or I was reading the wrong part. Should there not be another digit in there?

With the group Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is NOT obscene numbers edging towards 220,000 it seemed like I was reading the wrong number. Quick calculations, based on the December percentages would have set a similar percentage at around 30,000 participants, with the rapidly growing group.

But the number on the event page was correct.

A visit to the lively discussion board on the Hey Facebook… group or the Terms of Services discussion threads (relating to breastfeeding) show that the passion and the commitment of the lactivists is not waning. So where was everyone Saturday?

Joint event organiser Emma Kwasnica believes that the low numbers of participants in the weekend Virtual Nurse-In was due to a concerted effort by Facebook administrators to sabotage and shut down the protest; part of the ongoing effort to censor and silence breastfeeding women. Kwasnica believes that the poor numbers are not a reflection of the MILC running out of steam in their fight against Facebook’s antiquated and discriminatory policies. One has to remember that the Hey Facebook… group is an official petition with almost 220,000 ‘virtual signatures.’

There’s more than a grain of truth in Kwasnica’s suspicions of foul play.

For one, her account was summarily deleted on Sunday morning, with no prior warning (the first of a number of breastfeeding women to fall). This is not the first time Kwasnica has been caught with her account gone. On January 1, a few days after the inaugural Virtual Nurse in, she was accused of posting obscene breastfeeding photos. This time she was accused of abusing posting privileges on the Facebook discussion boards – where she is a prolific, magnanimous and generous contributor.

It is interesting to note, this same, swift censure doesn’t exist for the numerous trolls on the Hey Facebook… discussion boards who harass and cause trouble among the users there. Kwasnica’s account was reinstated forty-eight hours later. She believes the catalyst was not the numerous emails of protest and demands for the account to be reinstated, sent by Kwasnica and other users, but a direct result of rumours circulating of a lawyer being invited to look into her case.

Kwasnica and her other friends on Facebook were appalled that the deletion of her account also removed all the discussion threads that Kwasnica had begun, virtually wiping out a raft of important information available to women looking for support and education on informed choices in breastfeeding, birthing, pregnancy and parenting.

Of greater concern to the administrators of the Hey Facebook… group was that members were singled out by a virus that could only have originated within the official Facebook servers. The attack began around 3pm Friday. The virus masqueraded as an error page informing users that others had been trying unsuccessfully to view their profile, instructing them to click a link to see the errors. The page came with a yellow triangle and exclamation mark we are all familiar with.

The virus was a reverse form of a denial of service (DoS) attack that stopped users being able to access Facebook’s pages. The underhanded technique is more commonly used by unscrupulous internet companies to slow down their competitor’s websites. Not surprisingly - it is illegal. It has been likened to a bad house party – where you let one bad person in the door and they bring a horde of friends, who you can’t keep out. End of party!

And destroy the party they did.

It’s a rather nifty means of sabotage if your intent is to keep users off your website. Either Facebook sanctioned the attacks, or their servers are not the secure places they maintain they are. Because of the style of virus and the fact that it only affected members of the Hey Facebook… group, it’s hard to believe that it wasn't a endorsed assault by Facebook.

But it doesn’t stop there!

For a period of time Friday and possibly at other times during the actual protest, the official MILC event page came with a warning that the page ‘may’ contain images and content regarded as obscene and it’s believed that Friday between 1pm and 4pm the MILC page was completely off line and inaccessible. Bad luck to anyone getting in early to register their support or for those in time zones ahead of the US, moving into Saturday morning.

There were also issues with the link to the events page. Many supporters found that the last four digits of the link were blacked out, making it useless. This prevented supporters from sharing the message through posting the link to their status, websites, blogs or including it in emails. It’s interesting to note that none of these problems arose in December when almost 12,000 users flooded the event page.

Kwasnica said there were also reports that the button that registered attendance on the event page did not work, basically stopping users from registering their support for the protest – the only way in which numbers could be calculated. There is an unusually large disparity between the number of RSVPs received and the number of people who actually attended.

Facebook integrity has been called into question in the past week on a number of fronts. First there was Facebook’s attempt to change their Terms of Service, to own user’s information even after their departure from the Facebook, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg back pedalling today on the proposed changes. Now there are the reports emerging that Facebook continued to accept advertising money from known fraudulent get-rich-quick schemes.

Which makes one wonder would Facebook really go to such extraordinary lengths to silence lactating women protesting their ability to assert agency over their own bodies online? What could possibly be in it for Facebook? The December virtual nurse-in attracted media attention from across the world. While the lactivists were not the ones that came out of it looking bad, any publicity is good publicity right?

Or is Facebook concerned about the implication of their actions and policies? After all, breastfeeding in public spaces is protected by law in the State of California where their head office is based. Facebook is a public space. Would Facebook want a class action bought against it by its breastfeeding users testing the application of California’s breastfeeding legislation? Existing legislation is slowly but surely being applied and tested in cyberspace incidents, birthing new precedents and spawning new laws across the industrialised world.

So the question begs to be asked, what potential, real or imagined, threat do a quarter of a million lactivists present to the social networking giant? And does the means justify the end?

You may not agree with the Facebook lactivists, but everyone has an ethical obligation to support the freedom of choice and speech (the later protected in the US Bill of Rights!). The powerful pick on the weak ones first…mothers with babes at breast. If Facebook is allowed to continue to bully and win…who will be next in the sights of their scope?

Another nurse-in is planned for March.

Originally Posted at Type A Mom as my weekly column

UPDATE: this article was taken down from the Type A Mom site late Saturday.

I've been away on a four day break with my family to the beach and have only returned today (Tues 3 March) I'm about to commence discussions witht eh site owner at Type A Mom to have my article reinstated there. I have been told through my editor the original article was removed due to concerns about the legal ramifications for running it. I had the original article looked over by a friend of mine with a legal degree.

If you are, or know of a lawyer would would vouch for the 'safety' of this article, please leave me a comment below and I will get in touch with you.

And thanks to everyone who has thrown their support in behind me to keep this article alive and kicking. I'm back now!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Facebook and Reading Deprivation

This was week four of The Artist's Way for myself and the cluster. Week Four is the week we all dread - reading deprivation week. At the beginning of the week I made a list of all the things that I could and couldn't do, considering how things are going with the creative projects that I am working on and the writing committments I now have to meet with my Write Anything and Type A Mom columns.

I decided that I could go onto the internet to research the two columns that were due this week ... but not surfing, no Facebook (other than to go on the MILC event page to get the stats for the Nurse-In over the weekend), no personal emailing and no recreational reading. Sad to say - I've broken all the boundaries that I put in place. This is the week that I could not even have imagined, in my wildest fantasies.

Across the week I have been chasing a story about Facebook and the Virtual Nurse-In that was a dismal failure last weekend. When I started to dig I discovered lots of little things that didn't seem to add up. I had a moment as I was hanging the washing out Tuesday afternoon where I decided that I either chase the story and find out the truth, I pretened that it didn't exist and find a 'safe' topic to write my Type A Mom article on.

Never one to shy away from a challenge and believing that I had a fantastic article staring me straight in the eye - waving at me ... I asked the Universe for forgiveness and blessing as I chased down the story. This included getting my head around jargon and understanding the ins and outs of denial of service attacks, conducting a skype interview at 4:30am yesterday morning, wading through a daze of sleep deprivation to make the words and argument fit together. That's on top of juggling contacts in three different time zones to myself make motherhood look easy! As an aside - Paul you rock! Just in case I haven't mentioned that publicly for a bit.

Then today I was faced with a decision. I contacted the Syndey Morning Herald who have been running a series of articles on Facebook taking advertising money from known fraudulent get-rich-quick-schemes. Asher Moses was interested in my story. But I wasn't prepared to just
'give' my story away - as Dave reminded me, I'd done all the leg work, got up in the dead of night to speak to Canda, I'd written the article ... so I tried to sell it. The Editor said there was no freelance budget.

When it was a no go, I decided that if I was putting the story out and doing it for nix, I'd patronage Type A Mom, the site that's had faith in me and my editor Alyssa and site owner Kelby. It also means that I get to say what I want to say without having to dumb down or change my language, my thoughts or conclusions.

I'll provide Asher Moses with the link. He intends to follow up the story next week and he's promised to provide a link on his article citing my column as the original source. We'll see if he comes good on that promise ... and what Facebook's comment will be!

You know what - I feel like my head is going to explode. When I wrote on Wednesday evening in my new moon wishes:

I want easily trust in my ability to know what is right and wrong for me

I honestly had not idea that this is the sort of scenario it would be applied to. I may look back and regret the decision that I made - but I decided to go where my loyalties lie rather than getting blinded by the possiblity of having my story, my name on the Fairfax newsfeed!

Sometime in the next few hours the story will go live ... at a time when I will be walking along the beach on the Sunshine Coast two hours away from my computer, an internet connection and any furore that kicks up from it. Possibly another bad move. If I get desperate there's always an internet cafe I suppose or friends with access who can call me on my mobile.

So that's my week! I've been told I've taken on a Herculean task and I'm to be commended for raising my voice - but it doesn't at this point really seem that big. Even if we are talking FACEBOOK! Just exhausting. If you're a friend on Facebook and I disappear - you know Facebook isn't impressed with what I've had to say and had my account deleted all with all those breastfeeding Mums with so called 'obscene' photos.

I may suck big time at reading deprivation but I hope that it wasn't for nothing. I will be doing my reading dep this week coming. My head space and my soul space need a rest after this week. And I need to plug back into my family - who've been amazingly supportive of me and enjoyed all the takeaways they've had for a change.

UPDATE: You can find the link to the story here if you're interested to see what consumed my week!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Moon Wishes: Pisces

I've got my trusty New Moon Astrology out again - in preparation for the new moon in Pisces tomorrow lunch time.

Pisces is a big theme in our household with my partner a Pisces and my son's moon in Pisces. It's always been a challenging part of the astrological wheel for me, with three prominent Pisces women in my life causing quite a bit of grief over the years.

It's only recently that I have discovered how well I gel with Pisces men (I'm not surprised now that I have come to share my life with one!) and that there were some close Pisces female friends in my adoloscence.

I've come to the decision that perhaps those Pisces females I clashed with were not given the love and security they needed as young girls and that's what spawned their high maintenance natures and their terrible need to control/manipulate? Discussions late last week seem to show that Pisces, like Sagittarians also seem to flock together.

Personal musings aside, Jan Spiller's book suggests that the Pisces new moon is a good time to make wishes associated with:

- imagination
- inner happiness
- psychic sensitivity
- trust
- mystical awareness
- spiritual healing
- compassion
- releasing helplessness

It's also a good time for asking for healing with colds, feet, the lymphatic system and poisoning/toxicity. I've been doing pretty well with my no sugar life style - but perhaps asking for some extra support wouldn't go astray?

I'll be back tomorrow after the new moon to share my wishes for this lunar cycle.

Image: Pisces by Kirk Reinert

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Good Fiction Makes Bad Reality

Dale Challener Roe concluded his post at Write Anything yesterday with:

sometimes the things that make good fiction make for a bad reality
My regular readers will have noted that there was no Fiction Friday from me last week and that it's been pretty damn quiet around here. It was one of those moments for me that Dale was referring to, going in and reading the prompt.
"Your character hears this on the answering machine: "Sorry to have to deliver such bad news on the phone, but I thought you would want to know as soon as possible. Your whole department is being phased out. Downsizing, you know."
I had two stories come to mind - firstly going back to that nasty character of Graham from Blackest Black or reworking a story that I never posted about a scientist having his project canned from lack of funding. They were both fleshing out nicely in my head, but I just couldn't get them down, because playing in the background was my own personal story.

Friday was the day that my partner finally got his official redundancy letter. It seemed a little too close to home to be writing about the downsizing of a department, when Dave's department (the Engineering arm of Alcan - which was absorbed into the Rio giant with the take over at the end of 07) was reduced from over 300 employees down to just 26. And this was aside from the other 14,000 jobs that Rio is stripping across Australia.

At least we know now (the finish date is Friday 13th March) and that we'll be provided for in the interim. But the uncertainty doesn't end and that's perhaps what's wearing at both of us. The job hunting process seems to have tripled in it's complexity since he was last job hunting - prelimary interview, second interview, psychometric testing, the prospect of a site visit ... before they can decide on who gets the job. It seems like a waste of time, energy and money on behalf of all parties - but you have to dance to dance.

A paid writing job would be nice ... however writing is never going to make up the short fall of a job during the mining boom, downsizing to a job in the biggest economic downturn of our professional lives.

I trust in the Universe, because at this point, other than believing in my partner and his abilities, that's the only other thing that I can trust in.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Picture This #10: Sandals

This was an entry written for Write Anything's
Picture This #10
and is currently being reworked for entry in a flash fiction competition.

Friday, February 6, 2009

[Fiction] Friday: Blackest Black

This week's challenge from Write Anything's Fiction Friday prompt:
"Write about a Valentine’s Day without mentioning these words: Valentine’s Day, Cupid, love, roses, hearts, flowers, February."

It’s all black. My mood, the music in my ears, the vibe I’m emanating as I walk down the street to pick up my coffee. This morning everyone gives me a wide berth. It feels good.

The coffee is black – long and black. And that’s how this day feels, stretching out before me.

I’m oscillating between pretending it’s a day like any other day, ignoring the blokes carrying naff presents they would never normally be seen dead with or going in hard from the denial angle – which in my mind, as I scald myself on the coffee – is a completely different perspective.

“Someone die?” pipes up a voice from the sea of cubicle as I step out of the elevator alone. Late again. Immediately I regret taking my earphones out and unhappy that I need my last sick day this month to go to a concert next weekend.
“Not yet! But if you keep up with the daft questions you can go straight to the head of the line.” It sounds like I’m talking to myself because I don’t address the reply to anyone in particular
“Touchy touchy.”

There’s a murmur, that breaks behind me like a wake but I pay no attention. Black was a bad choice this morning. I wanted to be impassive but my shade of black is brooding and volatile. It makes it look to others like I care, when I promised I wouldn’t let this day get to me. To react is to be complicit and I want to distance myself from all of this consumerist crap and false sentiment.

I stride faster than usual down the walkway that divides accounting from stock control. There’s a proliferation of twee balloons floating above some desks and a floral scent laces the air, competing with the usual mix of foul aftershave, overpowering perfumes, coffee and someone’s runners.

My desk is just as I left it yesterday. And I start to breathe again. A neat, but small pile of papers in my tray, the out tray is cleared. A half melted blue candle sits to the side of monitor and I can see where I’ve traced the runes in my own spit on the screen to keep my computer humming. Slumping into my seat I feel as though my morning ritual is somehow wrong today. I don’t want to manifest abundance today, just a rock to slide under and wait until the date flicks over to the 15th.

There’s a squeal of delight somewhere in the sea of desks and I jam the earphones back into my ear sockets, turning on the computer and watching the flickering screen.


I wonder if grey would have been a better colour – or beige. Nothing happens when you think beige. I’d bore myself into a stupor and fall asleep at my terminal.

As I’m opening the top drawer a too familiar face appears at the top of divider. A face with acne so bad I gave up eating pizza after I started work here.

“So?” Even though the Rolling Stones “Painted Black” is scorching my ears I know what he’s saying. He’s got the eager anticipation of a puppy and I visualise sinking my high heeled foot into him and listening to him yelp. He motions for me to take out my earphones and for a minute I pretend, like I do every morning, to not understand what he’s asking me to do.

“So?” he repeats for my benefit when I finally relent and take the music buffer away.
“So what?”
“Graeme I’m busy.”
“You haven’t even typed your password in.”

My fingers fly over the keyboard to rectify the situation.
“As I said I’m busy.”

He hangs over the top of the four foot temporary wall and stares at me. A large, angry pimple stands to attention on his chin looking as though it’s aiming to blow in my direction. I cringe back, trying to work out the possible trajectory of the pus.
“Aren’t you going to reach in and get your morning Mars Bar from your top drawer?”

That’s where I had been heading when his appearance interrupted the smooth execution of my arriving at work routine. At present, reaching back in puts me in the cross hairs of the pimple. I’m not sure what repulses me more; the pimple or the fact that Graeme knows exactly what I do when I arrive at work.

“Graeme you’re creepy. Don’t you have something else to do other than spy on me?”
“You haven’t said what day it is yet?” There’s an unusual tone in his voice – it’s a pitch higher than normal.
“It’s Thursday Graeme,” and I take a deep breathe and try to ooze every ounce of bitchiness into what comes next, “– and no I can’t go bowling with you tonight. Just like last week and every other week for the past year.”

Part of me wishes that Graeme would make a proper pass at me so I could report him for sexual harassment to our line manager. As it is, sheer aggravation isn’t enough to warrant being sacked here – even though I dream it is! Sandra sitting across the walkway from me smothers a giggle behind a well manicured hand and I scowl at her.

“No … today is special.” It’s a statement that makes my blood go cold. So much for hoping Graeme’s radar missed the media build up and the marketing campaigns.
“Oh, you’re not going to ask me to go bowling with you?”
“Uh huh.”
“Well that does make it special,” but my voice is frigid.

Graeme’s face breaks into a lopsided grin, putting more pressure on the pimple than I’m comfortable with.
“See you later.” He winks, adjusts his shirt collar and saunters off. I swear he’s deluded and thinks he’s God’s gift to women.

As I reach into my drawer I feel an envelope sitting on the last two Mars Bars. My stomach goes cold. I knew it was too good to be true. It’s low key, it can be hidden. I'm talking myself through it as though I’m disarming a bomb. I keep the envelope low, under the desk and ease my finger into the hole at the side. A sudden unusual hush descends over Floor Five. I tear open the envelope as quietly as possible.

I slip out the card – hand made, from a Rice Bubbles pack. Go the expense! I read the front and feel a tremble go through my body. I fight it, try to suppress what is about to erupt from me. And when I’ve lost the battle and can’t hold it in any longer, an insane peal of laughter tears out of my mouth and rips through Floor Five.

My eyes pool with tears. I look down again, knowing that it will be worth the possible blow back to me of putting it up on the notice board in the tea room. Graeme will keep away from me once I’ve humiliated him, then I remind myself that he wrote the card. All kudos for embarrassment go direct to Graeme and his …

“Be my Ballantyne”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Treading Water

The last few weeks have been utterly frustrating. I'm not getting the amount of writing or editing work done, and the new writing gig that I have as Type A Mom's breastfeeding editor (which involves a weekly column/article) has already lost it's shine.

Combine this with a two month long school holiday for my son and I feel as though I'm going around the twist. I feel like a caged animal. My sleep is interrupted, I'm nasty and crabby and in the last two days my mind has clouded and I'm struggling to put together coherent thoughts ... all the time just reminding myself to breathe and that this will soon pass - just not fast enough for me.

I'm terrified that I will fall into a writing funk like I did in the middle of last year. Is it wrong to want to sit down (to be able to sit down!) and write and for something, anything to come out? Is it wrong to need to sit down, with a clear head and try to make a piece of work better?

Part of me wonders if I was just too damn ambitious to think I could put together an anthology of my short stories. And then to have infected my fellow writers with the idea?

It's probably a good thing that I'm doing The Artist Way and that I have the support, encouragement and love of my cluster if I really do hit rock bottom (which I'm hoping wont happen this year - seeings I've got a few Plan, B's C's and D's to get me through.) And the focus is one breaking through walls and barriers. Perhaps I'll find the reason behind these creative melancholies. Maybe it will be passing thing with the end of the school holidays and the return of some personal space. I'm dying for my Artist Date on Friday and already becoming precious about my time again, as I was last year when my son first started kindy.

For now - just write something every day ... no matter how small it is. Just to write something every day. In doing that I will tread creative water until I can begin to move forwards again.

Image from via Peanutbutterandcigarettes

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Vision in Perpetual Motion: Professional Development

Number 10 on my action plan (which I have renamed my list of intentions!) was a committment to professional development in 2009. When I wrote it as a dot point I had in mind a couple of things.

The Artists' Way
The first thing that I wanted to do to support, nurture and allow myself to grow as an artist and writer was to do The Artist Way again. This will be the third time and I looking forward to busting through some more of my blocks. I've already revealed one - which I'll write about in another post. I'm also hoping to do Vein of Gold or something else by Julia Cameron, and I've also noted Paul mention Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones: freeing the writer within. Sounds like an interesting read.

Queensland Writer's Centre
Looking through the Queensland Writer's Centre's booklet of course for 2009 I was drawn to a couple of courses - in February the Short Story and Critiquing Master class, and Kate Eltham's Short Story development series that kicks off in April. I haven't booked in yet - but have it on my to do list. I was also intending to get myself on the Novel of the Year course - to assist me in getting a manuscript finished, but I wasn't organised enough to get myself a spot. It wasn't an imperative and it wont stop me from finishing a manuscript this year.

Byron Bay Writer's Festival
I'm also intending to go to the Byron Bay Writers Festival again this year. Definitely with Annie as my partner in crime and possibly also with my soul sister Karen to celebrate her 40th birthday. I learnt so much from being there last year, plus it was a great time away from my family to recharge and enjoy time by myself, to immerse myself with others who love to write and read.

National Novel Writing Competition
While this is a dot point in itself on my list of intentions for writing this year - I also view it as professional development, because each year that I do it, I learn something else about myself as a writer, the craft of writing and the committment to write. Therefore it deserves a mention here!

I'll also be continuing on with my writer's circle here in Brisbane (if I'm welcome back!) and any online support system that grows out of this round of AW. I'm also trying to commit to networking more on line, reading more blogs and forming new association through this. However being time poor, I do what I NEED to do first (and reality that is write) and then I'll try to get around to reading and meeting new people!

For me, professional development is about continuing to push myself and break through the blockages (and for writers and artists there are so many!) that keep me from realising my dream to write, to be read and for others to pay for the enjoyment. And also to keep honing and improving my skills as a writer.

What professional development are you considering to support yourself as a writer this year?