Company U-turns on its decision to remove the iconic Vietnam war photo featuring a naked girl after global outcry and accusations of ‘abusing power’
Facebook has decided to allow users to share an iconic Vietnam war photo featuring a naked girl after CEO Mark Zuckerberg was accused of abusing his power when the social media company censored the image.
Norway’s largest newspaper published a front-page open letter to Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, slamming Facebook’s decision to censor the historic photograph of nine-year-old Kim Phúc running away from a napalm attack and calling on the CEO to live up to his role as “the world’s most powerful editor”.
Facebook initially defended its decision to remove the image, saying: “While we recognize 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.”
On Friday, following widespread criticisms from news organizations and media experts across the globe, Facebook reversed its decision, saying in a statement to the Guardian: “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.”
The statement continued: “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.”
Facebook also said it would “adjust our review mechanisms to permit sharing of the image going forward”. The company said the image would be available for sharing “in the coming days” and that it is “always looking to improve our policies to make sure they both promote free expression and keep our community safe”.
Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten, had accused Zuckerberg of thoughtlessly “abusing your power” over the social media site that has become a key distributer of news around the globe. He wrote: “I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.”
The controversy stems from Facebook’s decision to delete a post by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland that featured The Terror of War, a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut that showed children, including Phúc, fleeing an attack. Egeland’s post discussed “seven photographs that changed the history of warfare” – a group to which the “napalm girl” image certainly belongs.
The controversy has erupted at a time of increasing tensions between media organizations and Facebook, the site where 44% of US adults get their news.
Facebook faced scrutiny in May after it was revealed that its “trending” section was deliberately suppressing articles from conservative news organizations. In response, Zuckerberg personally reached out to top conservatives.