Tuesday 24 April 2018

Facebook forced to back down after it censored iconic Vietnam War photo

The Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut showing children fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Photo: AP
The Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut showing children fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Photo: AP

Cristina Criddle

Facebook has been forced to back down after being accused of an abuse of power by censoring one of the most famous images of the Vietnam war.

Norway's largest newspaper on Thursday published a front-page open letter to the social network's founder slamming the company's decision to remove historic photo the Terror of War.

The Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut shows children, including a naked nine-year-old Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam war.

But after the moved created a bitter row over censorship, Facebook said in a statement: "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."

Espen Egil Hansen - editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten - called on Zuckerberg to recognise his role as the "the world's most powerful editor" of a site that has become a key player in the distribution of news and information globally.

"I am upset, disappointed - well, in fact even afraid - of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society," he said. "I am worried that the world's most important medium is limiting freedom instead of trying to extend it, and that this occasionally happens in an authoritarian way."

The comments arose after writer Tom Egeland shared the photograph as part of a post which discussed "seven photographs that changed the history of warfare".

The image was removed and Egeland suspended from the social network. When Aftenposten subsequently reported on the suspension - with the same image on its article - the newspaper was asked by Facebook to "either remove or pixelise" the photograph.

"Any photographs of people displaying fully nude genitalia or buttocks, or fully nude female breast, will be removed," the notice from Facebook said.

In his letter, Hansen highlights that the decision revealed Facebook's inability to "distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs" and "allow space for good judgement."

He said people, such as Mr Egeland, were punished for voicing criticism about the company's decisions.

The attack comes after Facebook recently fired the team of editors who managed the trending topics section and replaced them with algorithms - which then swiftly proved the difficulty of automating news editorial judgment by promoting a fake news story.

A study by Pew Research Centre this year found 44 per cent of US adults get their news on Facebook.

A Facebook spokesman had previously said: "While we recognise that this photo is iconic, it's difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others.

"We try to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a safe and respectful experience for our global community."

Irish Independent

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