Social media is the lifeblood of the natural childbirth and lactivists movements; advocates have been fattened on alternative “facts” and therefore rendered ignorant of the truth and indignant at anyone who dares to correct them.
Consider this Facebook comment from Scarlett Lynsky:
Amy Tuteur- Professional Troll, Woman with a Vendetta. Angry at anyone who breastfeeds or gives birth without medication and anyone who supports them. Just, like, a life of angry trolling on the internet. I hope you get happy someday, Amy, because this is a weird life you’ve chosen.
It’s a perfect illustration of the ignorance, indignation and inability to tell the difference between disagreement and criticism that characterize both lactivism and natural childbirth.
It is infinitely more gratifying to imagine that breastfeeding makes some mothers superior, but the doesn’t make it true no matter how relentlessly social media insists.
What provoked it? I dared to correct the faux “facts” of lactivist Lucy Martinez Sullivan’s in her HuffPo piece The National Scandal Of Newborn Deaths And Why Support For Breastfeeding Moms Matters.
I posted this meme:
The real scandal here is the way that Martinez Sullivan exploits the tragedies of poor women and women of color to promote full employment for lactation professionals.
The biggest risk factors for infant death in the US are race and class. There is no evidence that breastfeeding make much of an impact on infant mortality and no reason to think it would. Sure, breastmilk can reduce the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis and thereby lower the death rate for very-low birthweight infants, but that accounts for only a small fraction of infant deaths. Over the past 100 years, breastfeeding rates have dropped dramatically and then risen again; there has been no impact on infant mortality by either of those trends. No one can point to any term infants whose lives have been saved by breastfeeding.
I don’t know if Martinez Sullivan is ignorant of this reality or merely willing to exploit it for her own ends, but I do know lactivist organizations as well as natural childbirth organizations use social media to create a carefully curated faux “reality” and then lash out at those who dare to point out that it isn’t reality at all.
That’s George Will’s point in The ‘alternative facts’ epidemic goes way beyond politics. Quoting Tom Nichols author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, he notes:
Our devices and social media are … producing people who confuse “Internet grazing” with research and this faux research with higher education …
As Carolyn Stewart writes in The American Interest:
We recuse ourselves from reality via the device in our hand, which rewards us for ignoring reality with a series of dopamine-releasing mini-tasks. From Candy Crush and Twitter to work emails, these activities hook us on a seeking-reward feedback loop that is infinitely more gratifying than staring at the commuter sitting across from you. These cyber preoccupations allow us to customize our surroundings, and accustom us to regulating and controlling the information that comes our way. This has several effects: an expanded sense of what falls under our personal social domain, an increased expectation of control over that domain, and a greater sensitivity to input that deviates from our preferences.
Lactivism and natural childbirth webpages, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds encourage lactivists and natural childbirth advocates to believe they have “done their research,” are in possession of “knowledge,” and are battling for the dissemination of knowledge to others. The reality is that they have read propaganda, are in possession of propaganda, and are battling for the dissemination of propaganda to others.
As Will explains:
In today’s therapeutic culture, which seems designed to validate every opinion and feeling, there will rarely be disagreement without anger between thin-skinned people who cannot distinguish the phrase “you’re wrong” from “you’re stupid.”
The Facebook comment above perfectly illustrates the inability of lactivists and natural childbirth advocates to distinguish between “you’re wrong” and “you’re stupid.”
Lucy Martinez Smith wrote a piece that flagrantly ignores facts about breastfeeding in an effort to promote full employment for breastfeeding professionals like herself. Breastfeeding is not perfect; it doesn’t save the lives of term babies; and it has little if anything to do with the tragedy of US infant mortality.
But Scarlett Lynsky heard none of that. She simply cannot tell the difference between “breastfeeding doesn’t save lives” and “you are angry at anyone who breastfeeds and anyone who supports them.” Considering that I breastfed four children, that’s obviously nonsensical, but the a steady diet of social media seems to erode the ability to think logically.
Pointing out that breastfeeding is not lifesaving is NOT the same as saying that breastfeeding is hateful. But social media has so warped the senses of lactivists and natural childbirth advocates that they believe they are entitled ignore facts or create new ones to keep the hits of dopamine coming.
Not surprisingly, it is infinitely more gratifying to imagine that breastfeeding makes some mothers superior to others. But the doesn’t make it true no matter how relentlessly your customized social media environment insist that it does.