Facebook policy on mastectomy photos spotlighted by petition

Images courtesy of David Jay/The SCAR Project

Controversy over post-mastectomy photos that were allegedly taken down by Facebook has led some people to closely examine the social network's policies on cancer survivor pictures.

When perusing her twitter, Scorchy Barrington noticed some people complaining that mastectomy pictures from non-profit organization The SCAR Project, which features inspiring photos of amputees, had been taken down from Facebook. In addition, she found out that the photographer behind the project, David Jay, had been banned from the social network for 30 days for putting up questionable material.

"This is ridiculous," she told CBSNews.com. "These are photographs of women who have had mastectomies. This isn't porn. It's not objectifying."

Realizing that liking a status wasn't going to change anything, she decided to start a petition of Change.org to get Facebook to stop taking down photos of women who have undergone mastectomies. While Barrington herself hasn't had a mastectomy, the stage IV cancer survivor found a connection to these women through their shared disease.

Barrington's argument was that if Facebook allowed pictures of breast-feeding, why couldn't the social network allow pictures of women who have overcome emotional, physical and psychological changes after they lost parts of themselves to breast cancer?

"We say mastectomy, but it's an amputation," she pointed out.

When she went to bed after the first day of the petition's posting, there were 6,000 signatures. When she woke up, more than 20,000 people were supporting her cause.

Facebook has always allowed mastectomy and other scientific and educational photos on the site, but like many other online websites, they have a firm ban on bare breasted nudity. While it is impossible to completely police the site, the administrators always take a look at any material that is flagged as objectionable by users.

"We only review or remove photos after they have been reported to us by people who see the images in their News Feeds or otherwise discover them," a Facebook spokesperson told CBSNews.com in a statement. "On occasion, we may remove a photo showing mastectomy scarring either by mistake, as our teams review millions of pieces of content daily, or because a photo has violated our terms for other reasons. As a reminder, our terms stipulate that we generally do not allow nudity, with some exceptions as laid out above and here, consistent with other platforms that have many young users."

Facebook has been in touch with different organizations that promote better understanding and support for women who have undergone mastectomies.

"We are supportive of their work and will continue to work with them to ensure that even as we review millions of pieces of photos and content, we are also doing our best to make the right and best decisions as they pertain to photos," they said.

Facebook's policies towards mastectomy photos hasn't changed since the petition was started, the company said. But, some supporters of the Change.org petition reported that when they personally reached out to the company, Facebook was very considerate of their worries.

"The folks of Facebook were really supportive of this," Barrington noted. "They understood the importance of having this kind of awareness education."

"I am very pleased that the Facebook team has reconsidered their current policy regarding images depicting the scars of breast cancer. We will be closely monitoring the implementation of these policies. For those that gain an immeasurable amount of support and hope through the images of The SCAR Project, this is an immense victory," Jay added in a statement to CBSNews.com.

What Barrington hopes now is that her campaign will assure that mastectomy photos will never be pulled down for being "offensive."

"Taking them down is arbitrary," she pointed out. "We need this seemingly arbitrary action to stop."

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