Facebook reverses course after censoring iconic Vietnam War photo

Facebook censors now target Dinesh D'Souza's movie.On Friday, the Guardian reported that Facebook, the social media site increasingly known as the “world’s most dangerous censor,” censored an iconic photo from the Vietnam War — one that actually won a Pulitzer Prize.  After coming under fire, the site reinstated the photo.

The photo in question showed a naked nine-year-old Kim Phúc running away from a napalm attack, the Guardian said.  Facebook initially defended its action, 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.”

The Guardian added:

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”.

In a front-page open letter to CEO Mark Zuckerber, Espen Egil Hansen, Editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest paper wrote:

Dear Mark Zuckerberg.

I follow you on Facebook, but you don’t know me. I am editor-in-chief of the Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten. I am writing this letter to inform you that I shall not comply with your requirement to remove a documentary photography from the Vietnam war made by Nick Ut.

Not today, and not in the future.

The demand that we remove the picture came in an e-mail from Facebook’s office in Hamburg this Wednesday morning. Less than 24 hours after the e-mail was sent, and before I had time to give my response, you intervened yourselves and deleted the article as well as the image from Aftenposten’s Facebook page.

To be honest, I have no illusions that you will read this letter. The reason why I will still make this attempt, is that I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.

After the photo was removed, Norwegian author Tom Egeland criticized Facebook for its censorship and was slapped by the social media giant in retaliation.

Hansen had quite a bit to say, and accused Zuckerberg of abusing his power.

“If you will not distinguish between child pornography and documentary photographs from a war, this will simply promote stupidity and fail to bring human beings closer to each other,” he added.

The Guardian continued:

This isn’t the first time the world’s most popular social networking – with 1.65 billion users – has found itself at the losing end of freedom of speech controversies. In 2008, the company provoked a backlash from breast-feeding mothers after outlawing images featuring nipples. Facebook says its goal is simple: to stop pornography and abuse.

Others including Hansen have suggested a possible way forward, which would see Facebook differentiating its rules on content according to region. It should further “distinguish between editors and other Facebook-users”, Hansen said, declaring: “Editors cannot live with you, Mark, as a master editor.”

And as I once reported at Examiner.com, Facebook once slapped a female conservative claiming that her profile picture of a lilac tree was pornographic.  The site also told another user that his picture of a 2012 Donald Trump campaign button violated its rules on nudity.

The button only showed Trump’s face.

Incidents like this are the reason Adina Kutnicki, an investigative journalist based in Israel, and I wrote, “Banned: How Facebook enables militant Islamic jihad.”  That book, endorsed by Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, was released over the Labor Day weekend and is now available at the WND Superstore and Amazon.com.



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Joe Newby

A 10-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Joe ran for a city council position in Riverside, Calif., in 1991 and managed successful campaigns for the Idaho state legislature. Co-author of "Banned: How Facebook enables militant Islamic jihad," Joe wrote for Examiner.com from 2010 until it closed in 2016 and his work has been published at Newsbusters, Spokane Faith and Values and other sites. He now runs the Conservative Firing Line.

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