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!


Emma said...

Hello, friend !

Any explanation yet as to why your article got pulled from the typeamom site ?

Seems terribly fishy to me. . .

Anonymous said...

No kidding! It got pulled from the regular site? Jodi, what did they explain to you for doing that?


Jodi Cleghorn said...

Hey Emma and Franny,
I'm back! My disappearance was a family break for a few days.

I am in discussions with the site owner regarding having my article put back up.

At this point, I've heard via my editor that it's to do with 'legal concerns'of the site owner (nothing from the actual site owner though)

I had the legal angle checked out prior to submitting the article and have reiterated that ... so hopefully I'll know something tomorrow regarding IF the article will go back up and in what state (possibly with a disclaimer at the bottom!) If not wonder if SMH are interested ... me on the Fairfax newsfeed - lol!

Thanks for your concern ... it must have looked rather dastardly. I'm glad I had a back up posting here on my blog (I would never normally do that with my weekly columns - but had a feeling this time!)

Interestingly - in the last three days the lactivist article has had 145 hits!

Janet said...

Hi Jodi,

Just read your article, and wanted to leave you a quick note. Loved it :) Do keep us up to date on HF!BFINO about the progress of your fight with the site owner who took down your column.


Julie said...

Hi Jodi,
seems wierd in our world dosen't it that anyone could possibly be offended by breastfeeding... it's strange to have a bee in their bonnet over something so natural and normal and ordinary... keep up the good discussion and we will all continue to back you!
More Power To You!

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