Facebook Under Fire for Censoring One of the Most Iconic War Photos

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Facebook Under Fire for Censoring One of the Most Iconic War Photos

'Facebook's censorship is an attack on the freedom of expression—and therefore on democracy'

Aftenposten editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen stands next to an image of the paper's front page, which shows the iconic war photo Facebook continues to censor. (Photo: Aftenposten)

Facebook is under fire for censoring an iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the horrors of the Vietnam war, with the social media site's chief, Mark Zuckerberg, being accused of "abusing his power," trying "to change history," and even waging an attack on democracy itself.

The row involving the 1972 photo by Nick Ut depicting children, including a naked nine-year-old girl, fleeing a napalm attack reportedly broke out last month when Norwegian author Tom Egeland posted it along with six others he said "changed the history of warfare," according to the Guardian.

Facebook removed the photo, saying it was in violation of the site's nudity policy, and later banned Egeland. 

But public response was swift. According to TheLocal.no, Facebook's decision "led to a strong backlash in Norway, with many Norwegian users posting the photo in defiance of what many felt was unnecessary censorship of an important historical image. " The Norwegian Journalism Assoication also encouraged news outlets to share the image.  And it prompted "a string of Norwegian politicians" to post the image as well, the Guardian reports.

Among them was Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who posted the photo to her page on Friday, writing that it "shaped world history."

"Facebook is making a mistake when it censors these types of photos. It contributes to limiting the freedom of expression," she wrote. Facebook deleted that post, but Solberg later posted the photo again, this time with a black box over most of the girl, and also posted several other well-known historical photos with black boxes. In her newer post, she writes, "What Facebook does by removing images of this kind, good as the intentions may be, is to edit our common history."

Bringing further attention to the controversy on Friday, the editor-in-chief of Norway's biggest newspaper, Aftenposten, published an open letter to Zuckerberg after Facebook deleted Ut's photo from their page.

Espen Egil Hansen writes that he feels the letter is necessary because he is "upset, disappointed—well, in fact even afraid—of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society."

He writes that Zuckerberg creates "rules that don't distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs."

Calling Zuckerberg "the world’s most powerful editor," he writes, "I think you are abusing your power." He later asks:

Mark, please try to envision a new war where children will be the victims of barrel bombs or nerve gas. Would you once again intercept the documentation of cruelties, just because a tiny minority might possibly be offended by images of naked children, or because a pedophile person somewhere might see the picture as pornography?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal, the head of Aftenposten's publisher, Schibsted, also criticized the photo removal, saying, "Facebook’s censorship is an attack on the freedom of expression—and therefore on democracy."

As for Kim Phuc, the now 53-year-old who was depicted in the photo, a spokesperson says she "is saddened by those who would focus on the nudity in the historic picture rather than the powerful message it conveys."

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