Friday, May 16, 2014

When Misinformation Goes Viral - An Opportunity Flushed Down the Public Toilet?

You've probably read about this already.  Which unfortunately means that you probably don't know much of anything about it, given that social media coverage and articles have been rife with misinformation.  And since HB 1706 was/is so close to my heart, I'd like to clear up a few things, and tell you how you can support breastfeeding legislation.

Graphic design students Johnathan Wenske and Kris Haro at University of North Texas have done a bang-up job on a mock ad campaign project that calls to mind a similar concept in an Australian ad, intended to, hypothetically, promote legislation that would protect breastfeeding mothers from harassment.  Though the campaign was not meant to go public, an image was shared on social media and the whole thing has gone viral.

As the Legislative Chair of the Texas Breastfeeding Coalition, I know well the legislative piece that the ad focuses on, having worked tirelessly to support it before it died a year ago, and already hard at work to support it when it is refiled this winter.

The businesses cards I collected during the 83rd,
visiting legislators to ask for support.
As the wife of a marketing consultant and copywriter, I know something also about advertising.  But that's subject matter for another post.

HB 1706 was the name of the bill in the 83rd regular legislative session, in the winter and spring of 2013.  Authored by Representative Farrar and filed for the past several sessions (since my almost nine-year-old son was a wee baby), it has not yet made it through our legislative system, which is designed not to pass bills, but to kill them.  And so, it will be filed again this winter, when it will receive a new number, as bills do each session when refiled.  But I know and love it as HB 1706, so for lack of a new number and because "Strengthening the Right to Breastfeed" is cumbersome to use repeatedly, I'll continue to call it that for the purposes of this article.

Current Law

We already have a public breastfeeding law in Texas - Health and Safety Code 165.002, which states, "A mother is entitled to breast-feed her baby in any location in which the mother is authorized to be."

But, this law merely asserts a right, and does nothing to protect it.  A law is defined as much by what it does not say as by what it does say.  And our Texas nursing in public law does not say that it is illegal to violate the right to breastfeed.

It may be discriminatory to tell a nursing mother to leave a place of public accommodation, but nursing dyads are not a protected class (e.g., race, color, religion, etc.).  So it's not illegal to discriminate against them in Texas.

If a business owner or his/her employee tells a nursing mother to leave a place of business and the mother remains, she is trespassing.  Even though her legal right is being violated, she is the one who is, legally, in the wrong.  Crazy, huh?

If I tried to address why a mother's right to breastfeed should take precedence over those of others or to adequately address the detrimental effect of shaming a nursing mother, we'd be here all day.  So, just briefly then: because of NIP harassment, 40% of mothers list nursing in public as their top worry about breastfeeding.  And that negatively impacts breastfeeding rates, increasing risks for obesity, diabetes, cancers, and so much more, which costs lives and costs our economy.

Just to be clear - yes, strengthening the law is necessary - this is not a solution looking for a problem.

Last year we found 55 cases in Texas of mothers being harassed for nursing in public, and that's just by Googling a little and asking around through social media for a few weeks.

Since the session ended, there have been several more NIP incidents, including a very prominent one at a Victoria's Secret right here in Austin.

And of course, those are just the ones we hear about - a fraction of what mothers actually experience.

Again, the incidents that do occur have almost half of our mothers afraid to breastfeed when they're buying groceries or eating out with their families (you know - contributing to the economy).

Strengthening the Right to Breastfeed

So, enter HB 1706.  It would have strengthened the existing right-to-breastfeed law by:
  • Informing business owners that it exists.  Because too often the right is violated by someone who has no idea there is a NIP law.
  • Making it illegal to violate the right. 
  • Giving a harassed mother recourse.  A mother whose right is violated would have the option of filing a civil suit. She could sue for up to $500 plus attorney fees.  This is not an exorbitant amount of money, so there's no realistic cause to believe that there would be an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits.  It's not likely that there would even be many lawsuits at all, given the time and money required to sue someone (which explains why there hasn't been one yet).  But it would be a message to business owners that the law is not one which it is optional to follow.  They would likely take the time to train employees, and the mere existence of the enforcement provision would decrease NIP incidents without even being used.

If all this sounds good to you, and you'd like to support breastfeeding legislation right now, you can learn how at TXBFLeg.com.  You can sign up for action alerts there, too, and as the bill progresses next year, we will let you know how you can help then.

Because your involvement is vital.

I cannot overstate that.  

Even if you don't live in Texas - 1) we need your support, 2) our laws will impact you, and 3) your laws probably need improvement, too, so it would be a good idea to be aware.

Why is your involvement crucial?  Hundreds and hundreds of bills are filed each session, and there are 140 days to pass or kill each one.  Legislators care about the ones that their own constituents care about.  We need you spreading the word, because legislators need to hear from people that they want breastfeeding legislation to pass.

And if you don't consider yourself a breastfeeding activist - if you don't see yourself as a stakeholder - consider that breastfeeding could save over 900 lives and $13 billion annually; that it reduces risks for obesity, diabetes, cancers, and more.  Breastfeeding covers a lot of causes all in one shot.  Even if it's not the one cause you hold dear - we are all stakeholders.

Misinformation and Opportunity Flushed

There was a lot of shoddy reporting about the campaign initially, not just on social media but in traditional media, where you expect journalistic integrity - rather than a lot of scooting misinformation around so it looks like a new article, but still called the bill HB 170 and still treated the campaign as real when it was just a class project, still indicated that the students really did work with La Leche League and United States Breastfeeding Committee (they did not), and still talked about the legislation as though it is currently up for a vote.

The media is starting to get things right now, but is it too late?  These things only stay in the news for so long, and the upswing has already been squandered.  Perhaps if the campaign had been given the right start as it was initially shared, we could have taken more advantage of the attention it has gotten.  There was no real call to action from the ads initially because it was not a real campaign.

The campaign as conceived directed people to buy cartons of milk to raise funds for promoting HB 1706.  I'm not being facetious when I say it's really cute.  And the students' concept included involving NIP-friendly restaurants and an app for finding them, which I'm very impressed they thought of as kids (who don't even commit to saying they consider themselves advocates), because these are actually real initiatives.

Family Friendly Business Initiative gets businesses on board with supporting employees to pump at work and patrons to breastfeed in their establishments.  FFBI has partnered with the creator of the app LatchME, a wonderful resource that is a free, user-sourced app that maps breastfeeding-friendly establishments and resources.  LatchME is available on iTunes for iPhones and iPads, and on Google Play for Android.  These are all really important pieces to supporting mothers to breastfeed, and all of these pieces feed into each other.

20-year-olds Johnathan and Kris are excited to help mothers and have made the campaign a real thing, but unless they coordinate with those of us leading the efforts for HB 1706, I fear the attention generated will not be harnessed now and in the next session.

Their campaign suggests liking their Facebook page, contacting legislators, and it collects email addresses, but there is are a lot more ways to support the bill, aimed to reach people at various levels of involvement, on TXBFLeg.com.  And a year from now, I'm not sure what they'll be doing with that mailing list or who will be posting lege updates on their Facebook page.

Perhaps if there'd been a clear call to action from advocates, hundreds or even thousands of people may have called their Representatives last week to say, "Hey, when Rep. Farrar files her breastfeeding bill next year, I want you to support it."

Last week, while recovering from my 5-year-old's big birthday party and coordinating the Austin location's Best for Babes Miracle Milk Mother's Day Stroll, I managed to contact the United States Breastfeeding Committee, one of the models from the ads, one of the student designers, and their professors.  But by the time I had sussed out the truth about the mock campaign, there was no getting ahead of it.  It was already headed to HuffPo.

Believe you me, I'm beating myself up that I haven't managed to be all over the comments on all the posts and articles, telling people to contact their legislators (even out of Texas, because the majority of states lack an enforcement provision).   But have you ever felt like once something is this big, nobody is listening anymore - like everyone just wants to hear the sound of his or her own voice?  The comments section can be a dark and grimy place to be...

I've left a few comments, at least.  I have been in contact with the students and their professor over the past week and a half, though I don't know yet where that will lead (which is why it's taken me an eternity to get this post up).  I've posted the update to our lege blog.  I really have been trying to ensure that this promotion of our bill actually manages to support the bill before this cycles out of the spotlight.

There is another cycle, in the breastfeeding community, where something is shown and is huge initially, then after it fades, someone who hadn't seen it shares it again months later and there's a whole new wave of shares.

So if this fizzles in the coming week, hopefully it'll resurface in a couple of months, and next time, hopefully the coverage will be accurate and supporters will be directed to TXBFLeg.  Because the ads are right, of course: "a baby should never be nurtured where nature calls."

You can see an interview with the students and one of the mothers featured in the ad here.
Have you been moved by these ads?  
What action have they persuaded you to take 
to support breastfeeding legislation?

Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Love the shot of the biz cards from last session. Like you, I also can't stand a missed opportunity.

    ReplyDelete