Monica Yant Kinney: Facebook cracks down on breast-feeding

This is the photo Facebook censored, booting Lynn Heinisch off its network. Her husband snapped it at Adventure Aquarium.
This is the photo Facebook censored, booting Lynn Heinisch off its network. Her husband snapped it at Adventure Aquarium.
Posted: June 08, 2011


 Blame the hippo.

Had Genny, the 3,000-pound queen of the Adventure Aquarium, not glided up to the edge of her glass tank as Lynn Heinisch breast-fed her son below, Lynn's husband, Lou, would never have taken a photo his bride uploaded to Facebook.

Though Aquarium biologists insist it's just coincidence, the hippo, a species that nurses underwater, appears to be watching Heinisch and smiling approvingly.

Facebook, born of the primal urge to rate college girls "hot or not," took the opposite stance.

The social networking giant deemed Heinisch's picture offensive and deleted the Bucks County woman's online existence Sunday, just as it has done countless times before in a bizarre four-year war against breast-feeding mothers.

Heinisch received a two-hour warning before her electronic umbilical cord was severed. The forced withdrawal from a virtual universe as real as anything she's known was palpable when we talked Monday morning.

"Go ahead and tell me to get a life, but I'm a stay-at-home mom in a one-car family," explains the 32-year-old Croydon woman. "Facebook was my sanity, the one place I could meet people, talk to them, and read about their lives. My entire support network is gone . . . over a breast-feeding photo."

Too hot to handle

Shocking as it may seem to those of us who have seen more than we care to from prolific posters, Facebook has a visual standards policy. Photos cannot be "inappropriately sexual" or "contain nudity."

Monitoring a social network with 600 million users can't be easy, but Facebook has proven spectacularly inept at policing propriety.

Playboy's Facebook page has 4.9 million "likes" and twice as much cleavage. I got paid to gasp at the explicit material on "I Love Boobs," but anyone else would be fired doing that at work.

And yet, Facebook's censors have zapped hundreds of breast-feeding photos and deleted scores of "lactivists' " accounts. In 2008, a company spokesman said: "We've made a visible areola the determining factor," but Heinisch shows none of the forbidden skin. Could the real problem be that the hippo is naked?

"I've had my account deleted four times and had 35 to 40 photos removed, and [Facebook] is never very clear about how or why," explains Emma Kwasnica, an outspoken birthing and breast-feeding advocate from Montreal. "The last time, they said, 'If this happens again, we will not reinstate you.' But it happened again, and they reinstated me. So they don't play by their own rules."

The puritanical pursuit has inspired nurse-ins at Facebook headquarters and snarky headlines across the globe. The Facebook group "Hey Facebook, Breastfeeding Is Not Obscene!" already had 258,695 members - including Lynn Heinisch - when I joined Tuesday.

Heinisch knew the risks of posting her Madonna-and-child-and-hippo. But how could she keep it to herself when Facebook begs her every day to upload and share?

An error, but whose?

I e-mail Facebook's press office at 1:40 p.m. Monday about the hippo horror and other mammary matters. One minute later, I receive an auto-reply saying "we will do our best to respond as quickly as possible." After that, silence.

While I wait, I drive to Heinisch's house to watch her 16-month-old son, Liam, scamper in the backyard. She wasn't kidding about the quiet isolation of their suburban sanctuary. Out of habit, the sharp-witted former administrative assistant checks her smartphone for nonexistent status updates.

Why, I ask Heinisch, do so many people now rely on Facebook to survive rough days and long nights?

"Why do you go to the mall?" she replies. "It's free. And they've got everything."

By late afternoon, the "Bring Back Lynn Heinisch" group has 838 members, including "Firebreathing Dragon Mama." Many change profile photos in solidarity. One screams "Faqing Facebot Idiots."

At 5:59 p.m. Monday, 24 hours after being extinguished, Heinisch receives a reprieve as unexpected as the accusation that preceded.

"Hi Lynn, I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced," writes a Facebook team member named Astrid. "Your account was disabled in error. Your account has been reactivated and you will now be able to log in."

Before she's resuscitated, Facebook demands Heinisch acknowledge her crime and promise to keep things clean from now on.

"I tried to circumvent it, but there was no other way," she tells me. "So I checked the box and wrote back "I understand, but I don't agree."

Tuesday, Heinisch resumed talking about parenting and snapping sarcastically while Liam napped.

"My current profile photo is the photo they deleted," she boasts. "Notice the offensive hippo ogling my breasts. Clearly it's sexual harassment."


Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, myant@phillynews.com or philly.com/kinney. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq.

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