Breastfeeding tweet spurs privacy fears

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2012

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A 17-year-old male who published a photo online of a woman breastfeeding at a food court has apologised for causing offence.

A women's health group says the saga highlights that some people still view breastfeeding as unnatural.

The incident also ignited debate on what is and isn't appropriate for posting online, with a law academic saying the public is still defining boundaries in the new world of social media.

Using the Twitter handle @chadirl, the teenager posted a picture of a mother breastfeeding her child at New Plymouth's Centre City food court on May 19.

He wrote the comment: "What? I come to the foodcourt to enjoy my food, not watch someone flop their boob out. You don't do that where people are trying to eat. Isn't that what parent rooms are for?"

The photo sparked outrage on the social-media site. "A woman breastfeeding like the good mother she is. I see nothing wrong with this, open your mind a bit," one said.

At first the teenager tried to defend himself by saying he was allowed to post what he wanted online.

However, shortly after, he apologised and removed the picture from Twitter.

The Sunday Star-Times has a copy of the photograph, but will not publish it.

"Deleted it. Apologies for upsetting," the teenager wrote.

Isis McKay, from Women's Health Action Trust, said the fact he even took a photo of the mother and baby showed he saw breastfeeding as an abnormal activity.

"It's a shame that people hang on to ideas that breastfeeding in public is somehow not right. In the end, they probably just need to get comfortable with it."

McKay, a maternal and Infant health promoter, said the teenager was obviously misguided in posting the picture online.

"It's a positive thing that he's taken it down but what a shame it caused such a stir. Breastfeeding is a perfectly normal healthy thing."

The idea that people could take photos of women breastfeeding could potentially put them off feeding in public, especially first-time mothers feeling nervous about breastfeeding while out, she said.

With the advent of camera phones and social media, Victoria University law lecturer Steven Price said people were still defining what was appropriate, and what was not.

"A lot of it is public reaction – the boundaries are being set by national conversation after something appears on the front page of the newspaper.

"There was a pretty negative response to what he did which points to the fact he invaded privacy."

However, standing this up in court could be difficult as the line also blurred on what is private in a public place.

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"It's becoming increasingly clear that just because you're in a private place doesn't mean you have no rights to privacy."

You could reasonably expect people would not video you without your knowledge and put it up on the internet, he said.

"But the fact everyone has a camera phone and are prepared to use them in some ways would make it harder for her [the mother] to argue she didn't expect it to happen."

The teenager has since switched his Twitter account to private.

- Sunday Star Times

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