Instagram blocks account over breastfeeding selfie, mom claims

A former Winnipegger who posted on Instagram a photograph of herself breastfeeding is battling the social networking site after it briefly shut down her account.

Instagram told her some photos violated terms of use, says Heather Bays

A former Winnipegger who posted on Instagram a photograph of herself breastfeeding is battling the social networking site after it briefly shut down her account. 2:07

A former Winnipegger who posted on Instagram a photograph of herself breastfeeding is battling the social networking site after it briefly shut down her account. 

Heather Bays, a maternity photographer who now lives in Toronto and has almost 2,000 pictures on the popular photo-sharing service, said her account was deactivated on Saturday evening — right before Mother's Day.

Bays says this picture she posted of herself breastfeeding prompted a negative comment from another Instagram user. Her account was deactivated hours later. (Instagram)
"This is discrimination not only against mothers, but against women," she told CBC News on Monday.

Bays said it started when someone posted a negative comment on a selfie of her breastfeeding her 20-month-old daughter.

"It was beautiful, lots of people appreciated it, but one person didn't," she said. "Somebody wrote on there, 'Not cool.'"

Hours later, Bays said she received several emails from Instagram saying some of her pictures violated its terms of use.

But she did not get answers right away from Instagram or Facebook, which owns the service, explaining the particular issue with the photographs.

After she reached out to social media to plead her case — and received support from other people — Instagram agreed to reactivate her account but with about seven photographs removed.

She said Instagram told her the reason wasn't for breastfeeding but rather child nudity because the photos showed Bays' young daughter topless.

Instagram maintains it's OK with breastfeeding photos but there are strict policies around nudity and partial nudity.

Some photos considered child pornography

"Now they're telling me that any photo that has a child even showing their torso is called child pornography," Bays said.

"For them to say that to me was unbelievably insulting."

Women are shamed for just being women, for being mothers.… That's not OK.- Heather Bays

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on Bays's case but told CBC News it generally allows photographs of breastfeeding.

Instagram's terms of use state that users may not post "nude [or] partially nude" content.

An Instagram help centre article says it does allow breastfeeding pictures and "the vast majority of these photos are compliant with our policies," but adds that "photos that show a fully exposed breast where the child isn't actively engaged in nursing aren't following our Community Guidelines."

It adds that the photos it reviews are "almost exclusively brought to our attention by other Instagram members who report them."

Facebook's community standards state that it has a "strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity."

At the same time, it says, "We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo's David or family photos of a child breastfeeding."

Rosalind Prober of Beyond Borders, a Winnipeg-based organization that fights child sexual exploitation, says it's ridiculous to say a breastfeeding photograph constitutes child pornography.

At the same time, Prober warns parents that the photographs they post of their children online are public and live on the internet forever.

"Their child could end up in some collection of some child pornographer who has a sexual interest in children, whereas for everybody else it's just a normal photo," Prober said Tuesday.

Bays said both social media services should review their policies. She plans to post more breastfeeding photographs to make her point clear.

"Every single day, women are shamed for just being women, for being mothers," she said.

"That's not OK. This has to stop."

Social media reacts to breastfeeding selfie

​The CBC's Jill Coubrough gathered online reaction on Tuesday to Bays's breastfeeding photograph and the controversy that resulted when Instagram deactivated her account.


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