Monstrous mothers as a source of online revenue

A dive into the world of fake news reveals how online portals cash in on their readers willingness to attack women -- even those who don’t exist.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
Monstrous mothers as a source of online revenue - NewsMavens
Pregnant woman. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

In 2014, a Brooklyn-based comedian Nick Mullen published (an attempt at) a satirical text about a woman who breastfeeds her 12-year old son Mason. The article, written in first person and titled “I’m One Of Those Moms That’s Breastfeeding Her Kid Through Puberty”, primarily goes after the growing trend of extended breastfeeding among the “new age” moms, but doesn’t stop there. After describing how she was forced to leave a movie theater after breastfeeding her 12-year-old son, “Nicole” continues:

“This is just another day for me. This is what it’s like to be a mother that breastfeeds. This is what it’s like to live in world that hates women’s bodies.” “But, you know what? I press on. Because at the end of the day, it’s my body, and it’s my choice, and I don’t care what the state or the manager of Kohl’s or even what Mason has to say about it.”

The vitriol against women’s proclamations of control over their own bodies and their struggle to remove the stigma related to breastfeeding in public, is buried -- not too deep -- in the extreme premise of a mother who breastfeeds a teenager.

The first-person statements about sexual pleasure from her son's "unshaved beard" should be enough to reveal the satire, however unwitty. And even if this wasn't sufficient, it only takes two clicks to uncover Mullen's real profile and realize that “Nicole Mullen” is the alter ego of a man who decided to mock a few attitudes about breastfeeding at once.

Still, a Serbian portal “Blic Žena” (Blic Woman) didn’t give it a second thought when they translated the “satirical” article, gave it a screaming title (“My son is 12 and I BREASTFEED HIM IN PUBLIC: I told him not to shave because that way I ENJOY IT MORE”) and set it off into the cyberspace a year ago.

They spiced up the story with a little introduction, "explaining the phenomenon":

“The benefits of breastfeeding are well known, as a child's immunity gets stronger the longer it feeds on mother's milk. However, some women don't stop breastfeeding even after their children grow up and enter puberty. One woman decided to share her reasons."

And it worked. Three years after the original content was published, hundreds of people from the Balkans are raging about the non-existent "monstrous mother": a sick, despicable person; a pedophile who should be locked up; a psychopath who should be in a mental institution; a maniac whose kid should be taken away... The outrage is endless and it spreads over dozens of portals, blogs and Facebook pages who republished it. Needless to say, it’s followed by the occasional xenophobic comment about “deranged Americans” here and there.

Most portals borrowed the article from “Blic Žena” and published it verbatim. “Aura”, a portal from Bosnia, went a step further. In publishing the false “confession”, they added a stock image of an adult woman hugging a young man to the story, with the caption “Mother Nicole and her son Mason”. After “Raskrinkavanje” debunked the story, the article was removed from their website (the screenshot is still available in the article recommended here).

The portal which started the whole thing is profiled as a women’s magazine. Despite its supposed orientation towards women, it is no stranger to portraying mundane details related to motherhood as monstrosity. The latest example announced a horrifying “thing” in a pregnant women’s stomach: “She wanted to record her baby kicking in her belly, but captured PURE HORROR: Good God, what is THAT in your tummy?”, the title says. The article links a Youtube clip of a baby kicking a bit more strongly than usual. No monsters, no horrors. But the page views are there -- and not just for them, but for 14 other online outlets who republished "Blic Žena" to increase page visits. 

Details from the story:

  • A satirical article was published in 2014 about a woman who complains of a lack of understanding and support for breastfeeding her teenage son in public.
  • The article, written in English, was translated and published as a real-life confession in 2016, by Serbian women's magazine, an offset of a rather well-established newspaper "Blic".
  • It was immediately picked up by several online media from all over the region, some of which added their own false details to the story.
  • The latest such article was published just a week before "raskrinkavanje.ba" debunked it as a fake story.
  • The story received comments from hundreds of outraged readers on several portals who published it. To the best of our knowledge, none of the portals issued an apology or erratum. Some, however, did delete it from their webpage.
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