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Breast cancer activists win battle with Facebook over mastectomy photos

A Change.org petition pushes the social network to be more conscientious in how it handles images depicting breast cancer survivors.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
2 min read
Inspiring a petition to encourage Facebook to allow mastectomy photos, the SCAR Project is a Facebook Page that features a series of photographs of young breast cancer survivors shot by photographer David Jay. The SCAR Project/Facebook

Facebook has clarified its policy against nudity to allow for postmastectomy photos after a run-in with vocal breast cancer awareness advocates disgruntled by the social network's practice of removing photos depicting mastectomy scars.

In May, Scorchy Barrington, a woman with Stage IV breast cancer, petitioned Facebook executives through Change.org to end the company's practice of censoring photos of men and women who have undergone mastectomies. Barrington said Facebook was removing photos from the SCAR Project Page, which features photographs of young breast cancer survivors, and that Facebook had banned project founder and photographer David Jay from the site.

More than 20,000 signatures later, Barrington and cause supporters are claiming victory. The social network has published a written policy allowing postmastectomy photos, which reads: "Yes. We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience and that sharing photos can help raise awareness about breast cancer and support the men and women facing a diagnosis, undergoing treatment, or living with the scars of cancer. The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies."

Facebook does stipulate in the policy, however, that photos with fully exposed breasts still violate its terms. The company also claims that is has "long allowed mastectomy photos." But Barrington, who met with company representatives last week to discuss the matter, seems pleased with the outcome.

"Facebook's policy team told me they are committed to clearing up any internal or external confusion regarding images of mastectomy and have clarified their policy," she wrote on Change.org. "From now on, these powerful visual testaments to the real impact of breast cancer and the resilience of breast cancer survivors will be welcomed on Facebook, as they should be."