Facebook has announced an update to its policy on images related to breast cancer, after 20,000 people signed a Change.org petition pressuring the social media giant to stop removing photos of mastectomies. Breast cancer advocates argue that Facebook’s policy has previously been too vague — allowing images depicting breast cancer scars to be frequently categorized as “pornography” — and see the company’s updated announcement as an important victory.
“We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience, and that it’s important to share photos to raise awareness of breast cancer and support the men and women who are facing diagnosis, undergoing treatment, or living with the scars of cancer,” Facebook’s new policy on mastectomy photos states. “The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies. However, photos with fully exposed breasts, particularly if they’re unaffected by surgery, do violate Facebook’s Terms.”
Activists hope that explicit policy will prevent Facebook from continuing to remove photos from the SCAR Project, which shares images of breast cancer scars in order to “raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, and to help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.” Under the company’s previously vague content guidelines, the SCAR Project’s photos were repeatedly removed from its Facebook page — and its founder, photographer David Jay, was banned from the site for 30 days. Advocates pointed out that, since Facebook has a policy differentiating breastfeeding from nudity, it should do the same for breast cancer images.
In its press statement about its mastectomy policy, Facebook explained it has “long allowed mastectomy photos to be shared on Facebook, as well as educational and scientific photos of the human body and photos of women breastfeeding,” although the company acknowledged that “on occasion, we may remove a photo showing mastectomy scarring either by mistake, as our teams review millions of pieces of content daily.”
Facebook’s content guidelines have come under fire over the past several weeks as advocates have criticized the social media site for consistently censoring women’s health images rather than images that endorse or celebrate domestic violence. Michelle Kinsey Bruns, the online manager of the Women’s Media Center, recently submitted a Facebook ad refuting the scientifically disputed link between abortion and breast cancer — but Facebook rejected it for violating its ban on “adult products,” the same reason that similar breast cancer-related ads created by Kinsey Bruns have been rejected in the past. Taken together with Facebook’s past resistance to remove content that jokes about raping and beating women, Kinsey Bruns pointed out that the disparate policies illustrate “the absolute inconsistency that Facebook is willing to apply to a woman’s body as an object of violence, but a woman’s body as a medical object is too scandalous to be approved.”
But successful online activism continues to influence Facebook to update its policies — or at least promise to do so. After advocates successfully pressured over a dozen companies to stop advertising with Facebook to protest its domestic violent content, the company announced that it will strengthen its policy to ensure that content promoting violence against women will not be tolerated. “We need to do better — and we will,” a statement from Facebook said.