Facebook reinstates iconic Vietnam War photo after controversial ban

Facebook on Friday reversed its ban on a famous Vietnam War-era photo of a young girl running naked down a road after a napalm bombing, following widespread criticism of the social media giant's policy on nudity.

Facebook said it acknowledged "the history and global importance" of the image and said the image would no longer be blocked on its platform, even though such an image of a naked child "might even qualify as child pornography."

The photo had been removed from a page used by Norway's largest newspaper, Aftenposten, on Thursday and later from Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg's personal Facebook page.

Both Aftenposten - which published the photo on its front page Friday along with an open letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg - and Solberg welcomed Facebook's decision.

"Regarding this specific photo, I'd say it was a wise decision by Facebook," editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen told Aftenposten's online edition, noting that "editors from time to time realize a mistake has been made and correct it."

Still, Hansen added, Zuckerberg "has to discuss his power since so much information flows through his channels."

In its front page message, the paper criticized the company's removal of the photo under its rules against nudity.

Hansen had said his newspaper would "not comply" with a request to remove Nick Ut's 1972 photo that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Facebook had initially responded to the controversy by saying it was trying to "find the right balance."

Solberg late Friday welcomed Facebook's reversal, saying "I hope Facebook has learned they need to have systems to correct things when machines and algorithms rule." 

Solberg earlier Friday shared the Vietnam War photo on her Facebook page with an entry saying the company "has drawn the wrong conclusions when censoring such photos."

A few hours later the post was no longer visible.

"What Facebook does by removing images of this kind, good as the intentions may be, is to edit our common history," she later wrote. Solberg also reposted the photo, but the girl was blacked out.

Facebook issued an initial statement, 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."

Once Facebook changed course and decided to allow the photo, the company said it would need time for its systems to be adjusted.

The chain of events began Wednesday when Aftenposten received an email from Facebook's Hamburg office asking that the photo be removed, Hansen said. Less than 24 hours later, "you intervened yourselves and deleted the article as well as the image from Aftenposten's Facebook page," he wrote.

The Aftenposten article had mentioned Norwegian author Tom Egeland who was temporarily banned from Facebook last month after posting the photo along with six other war images.

Egeland also welcomed the reversal saying "it shows protests do pay off, and that Facebook, one of the world's largest companies does listen when someone protests."  

Hansen said he was "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."

"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," Hansen said. 

Last update: Fri, 09/09/2016 - 22:56
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