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An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg

I'm writing to you to discuss the repeated suspension the Facebook account of a member of our organization, Beth Fairchild. Beth's account was recently suspended because she posted a picture of an areola tattoo that she performed on a woman who has been through a mastectomy with reconstruction.
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December 22, 2015
Mark Zuckerberg
Founder and CEO
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, California 94025

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

I'm writing to you to discuss the repeated suspension the Facebook account of a member of our organization, Beth Fairchild. Beth's account was recently suspended because she posted a picture of an areola tattoo that she performed on a woman who has been through a mastectomy with reconstruction. Once her account was reinstated, someone repeatedly reported more of her photos, and now her account has been suspended again.

Beth is an important member of our organization, MET UP, whose mission is to change the landscape of metastatic cancer through direct action. Like many of our members, myself included, Beth has metastatic breast cancer, which is breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, and is incurable. Everyone with metastatic breast cancer will die of or with their disease, including Beth. And yet, despite this devastating diagnosis, Beth has decided to spend the time she has left being a fierce advocate for women who have breast cancer, including using her amazing skills as a tattoo artist to help women who have been through breast reconstruction.

Many people don't realize that breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is nothing like breast augmentation done on women without cancer. In a mastectomy, the entire breast is removed, including the nipple. In order to rebuild the breast, doctors can build a nipple with tissue, although it will never feel like the removed nipple because it no longer has any nerves in it. And after a surgeon builds a nipple, it has no areola. In order to have the nipple look like the one that was removed, a tattoo artist like Beth must tattoo an areola on/around the rebuilt nipple. In addition, some women can't or don't have the nipple rebuilt, and instead have a 3-D areola tattoo, like the one Beth created and shared in the photo that initially led to her suspension.

Facebook has standards for determining when nipples can be shown in photos shared on your site. Your community standard states, "We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring." The photo that Beth shared clearly shows a mastectomy scar at the top of the breast. And yet, your staff suspended Beth's account because she was accused of violating the community standards-standards that explicitly allow this photo to be shared.

In addition, once Beth's account was reinstated, someone reported more of Beth's photos that clearly do not violate Facebook's community standards, and her account has been suspended again.

Those of us in the breast cancer community have found ourselves repeatedly targeted by people reporting post-mastectomy photos. This is consistent with the ongoing sexualization of our disease-a disease that will take Beth's life, and mine. That our cancer involves our breast does not make pictures of our scars and our reconstruction pornography, any more than photos of people with other amputations is pornographic. It has become exhausting having to repeatedly defend the posting of such photos, and to be blunt, your staff seems to have a difficult time following your standard that such photos will "always" be allowed. Indeed, Beth is not the first woman to share such a photo whose account has been suspended. Another breast cancer patient, Carrie Ellman-Larsen, had a blog post removed from Facebook just last week, likely because it contained pictures of reconstructed breasts.

And so, I'm writing with two requests: that Beth's account be reinstated, since she clearly has not violated Facebook's community standards; and that you train your staff to recognize a post-mastectomy photo, so that this harassment from your users of women recovering from a mastectomy will finally end. We would be happy to help create training for your staff on identifying post-mastectomy photos or advising Facebook about issues surround breast cancer.

I request a response from you or someone from Facebook as soon as possible, before Beth or any other of our members are targets of further harassment.
Sincerely,

Beth Caldwell
Co-Founder, MET UP

A version of this letter originally appeared on Beth's website, www.cultofperfectmotherhood.com.

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