Facebook deletes iconic image and sparks public backlash!

  | James Innes

Facebook found itself at the centre of a media storm last week after censoring an iconic picture from the Vietnam War. “The Terror of War” shot in 1972 by Nick Ut, shows terrified children running down a road after an aerial napalm attack. Among them was nine year-old Kim Phuc, crying and naked.

The Pulitzer Prize winning photo has become famous because of its depiction of war and the terrifying impact that it has on innocent civilians.

However, Facebook removed the image from its newspaper profile page last week, citing its policy against nudity.

This sparked a huge public backlash, particularly in Norway, where the leading daily newspaper, Aftenposten, accused Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, of “limiting freedom”. Prime Minister Erna Solberg then joined the fray by posting the picture on her Facebook account in protest. She said “what Facebook do by removing images of this kind, whatever the good intentions, is to edit our common history…. I want my children and other children to grow up in a society where history is taught as it was”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Kim Phuc, who is now 53 and lives in Canada, said she was £saddened by those who could focus on the nudity in the historic picture rather than the powerful message it conveys”.

Although Facebook initially suspended Solberg’s account for 24 hours, along with a number of other users who had posted the image, on Friday it backtracked and said the image would be restored, recognising “the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time”.

However, the controversy has raised wider concerns about Facebook and other social media platforms applying rules as to what appears on their sites in too rigid a way. Facebook repeatedly took down pictures of women breast-feeding their children, before it agreed to modify its policies, whilst courted further controversy by taking down a Minnesota woman’s video of her boyfriend dying after being shot by police. Again public outcry forced them to restore the video.

Although Zuckerberg insists Facebook is a technology not a media company, they are in a very powerful position as a host for news. Two-thirds of Facebook users in the US – roughly 44% of the general US population – get their news on Facebook. This puts them in a very powerful position, and whilst their guidelines on nudity, terrorism and hate speech are designed to ensure that content on its platforms is not objectionable, there is a grey area between application of those rules and censorship.

In a text message sent through an aide, Ms Solberg said “it is highly regrettable. What they do by removing such images, no matter what the good intentions, is to redact our shared history”.

Source: Wall Street Journal, Sky News

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