Facebook censors Norwegian Prime Minister after she posts iconic Vietnam War photograph

The company is determined not to be able to tell difference between child pornography and Nick Ut's iconic photo

Scott Eric Kaufman
September 9, 2016 6:11PM (UTC)

For the better part of a week, Facebook's "community standards" police have been engaged in contretemps with Norway's largest newspaper, Aftenposten, over an article by one of its writers titled "Seven photographs that changed the history of warfare."

The lead image for the story was Nick Ut's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Terror of War" — the iconic photograph of a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack — one that undoubtedly deserves inclusion in any such discussion. Facebook, however, deemed the post to be in violation of its community standards and suspended author Tom Egeland's account.


The company also removed the article from Aftenposten's Facebook page, a move with which its Editor-in-Chief Espen Egil Hansen took issue. In an open letter, Hansen accused Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg of "abusing [his] power," adding that "I am upset, disappointed — well, in fact even afraid — of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society."

"The media have a responsibility to consider publication in every single case,” he continued. “This right and duty, which all editors in the world have, should not be undermined by algorithms encoded in your office in California. Editors cannot live with you, Mark, as a master editor."

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg responded to the situation by posting the image on her Facebook wall. She accompanied the photograph with a message, writing that "I appreciate the work of Facebook and other media to stop pictures and content showing abuse and violence. But Facebook gets it wrong when it censors pictures like these. It contributes to restricting the freedom of speech."

Facebook responded by deleting her post.

For its part, the social media behemoth told Business Insider that "[w]hile 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. We try to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a safe and respectful experience for our global community."

Scott Eric Kaufman

Scott Eric Kaufman is an assistant editor at Salon. He taught at a university, but then thought better of it. Follow him at @scottekaufman or email him at skaufman@salon.com.

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