Facebook reversed its decision on banning an iconic Vietnam War photo following a day of criticism from all directions.
Critics accused Facebook of abusing power after it removed two posts that featured the infamous napalm girl photo. The first censored post was by Norwegian publication Aftenposten. The other was by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Facebook initially defended the move citing the fine line between iconic and child pornography upon evaluation of The Terror Of War photo by Nick Ut taken in 1972.
"We try to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a safe and respectful experience for our global community. Our solutions won't always be perfect, but we will continue to try to improve our policies and the ways in which we apply them," a Facebook spokesperson said.
However, Facebook was forced to reinstate the images following backlash from its community.
"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. 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. We are always looking to improve our policies to make sure they both promote free expression and keep our community safe, and we will be engaging with publishers and other members of our global community on these important questions going forward," a Facebook representative told Recode.
Is Zuckerberg The World's Most Powerful Editor?
Espen Egil Hansen, the CEO of Aftenposten, dubbed The Zuck the "world's most powerful editor" and underlined how unfortunate the decision to remove the photograph was. According to Facebook, the famous "Napalm Girl" photo that contains child nudity in the aftermath of a napalm strike violates its community standards.
Hansen signed an open letter to the Facebook CEO to express his disgruntlement with the situation.
He underlines that not being able to tell the difference between "child pornography and documentary photographs from a war ... will simply promote stupidity."
The original image was captured by Nick Ut, an Associated Press photographer. It immortalized a group of children fleeing from a napalm bombing, one of which was the 9-year-old Kim Phúc, who is naked in the photo.
Norwegian writer Tom Egeland recently posted the image as part of a discussion about images that define the history of warfare. Quickly afterward, Egeland's Facebook suspended his account on accusations that the post does not comply with the user agreement.
Aftenposten covered the subject of the suspension and shared it, only to have the story removed from the paper's Facebook page.
Before deleting the story, Facebook sent a warning letter to Aftenposten where it pointed out that full frontal nudity or buttocks photos will not be tolerated on the social media platform.
In his open letter to Zuckerberg, Hansen urges the CEO to "offer more liberty in order to meet the entire width of cultural expressions." He further mentions that Facebook's censorship seems to be "limiting freedom [instead] of extending it," and the authoritarian means in which it happens is at least troublesome.
Norwegian PM Erna Solberg joined the fight by posting the iconic "Napalm Girl" photo on her own account.
"Facebook is making a mistake when it censors these types of photos. It contributes to limiting the freedom of expression," Solberg wrote.
She underlines that she supports "healthy, open and free debates" both inside and out of the digital world and she has no taste for the type of censorship that Facebook is dwelling in.
Blame Facebook's Algorithm
This is not the first time the social media company's practices have been questioned.
Recently, 18 of the company's contractors involved in curating topics were fired as accusations of bias poured in. After the incident, Facebook replaced the curatorial team with an algorithm.
However, this did not prove more efficient in trimming out fake or inappropriate posts.
The algorithm caused a number of hoax stories to reach the news feed of users, some of which had trouble telling fact from trolling.
Some chastised Facebook's algorithms, accusing them of preferring publications that create shareable content but which prove to contain little to no relevant information.
Is it time for Facebook to have an editor, a human editor that is?
Image: Cliff | Flickr