Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Friday slammed Facebook in an escalating row between the social media giant and the country's politicians and media over its repeated censoring of an iconic image of the Vietnam War.
The photograph, which shows naked 9-year-old Kim Phúc running away from a napalm attack after being severely burned, appeared on Facebook in a post about the terror of war by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, The Guardian reported.
Facebook deleted the post, and Egeland was suspended from Facebook for sharing a photo that included "nudity."
Norway's largest newspaper Aftenposten then published a story on Egeland's Facebook suspension using the same "napalm girl" photo, and received a message telling it to "either remove or pixelize" the photo.
“Any photographs of people displaying fully nude genitalia or buttocks, or fully nude female breast, will be removed,” the notice from Facebook said.
However, Facebook deleted the article and image before the newspaper could respond.
In a front page editorial in response to the notice, Aftenposten Editor-in-Chief Espen Egil Hansen accused Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of abusing his power. In an open letter, he said:
Listen, Mark, this is serious. First you create rules that don’t distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs. Then you practice these rules without allowing space for good judgement. Finally you even censor criticism against and a discussion about the decision – and you punish the person who dares to voice criticism.
Dear Mark, you are the world’s most powerful editor. Even for a major player like Aftenposten, Facebook is hard to avoid. In fact we don’t really wish to avoid you, because you are offering us a great channel for distributing our content. We want to reach out with our journalism.
However, even though I am editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper, I have to realize that you are restricting my room for exercising my editorial responsibility. This is what you and your subordinates are doing in this case.
I think you are abusing your power, and I find it hard to believe that you have thought it through thoroughly.
Read the full open letter here.
Solberg then weighed into the debate by writing her own post in support of Aftenposten calling for the social media company to “review its editing policy,” only for Facebook to delete that as well.
A censored version of the image is now up in a post on Solberg's profile, in which she said: "While I was on a plane from Oslo to Trondheim, Facebook deleted a post from my Facebook page. What Facebook does by removing images of this kind, good as the intentions may be, is to edit our common history."
On Friday, a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that they would reinstate the image in posts where it had been removed.
“After hearing from our community, we looked again at how our Community Standards were applied in this case. An image of a naked child would normally be presumed to violate our Community Standards, and in some countries might even qualify as child pornography. In this case, we recognize the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time," wrote a Facebook spokesperson in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
"Because of its status as an iconic image of historical importance, the value of permitting sharing outweighs the value of protecting the community by removal, so we have decided to reinstate the image on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed. We will also adjust our review mechanisms to permit sharing of the image going forward. It will take some time to adjust these systems but the photo should be available for sharing in the coming days."
Alicia Melville-Smith is a homepage editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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Francis Whittaker is a homepage editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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