Friday morning, the front page of Norway’s largest Newspaper Afteposten puts Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on blast for the company’s decision to censor a historic photograph of the Vietnam war. The 1505-word letter titled Dear Mark. I am writing this to inform you that I shall not comply with your requirement to remove this picture accuses Zuckerberg of thoughtlessly “abusing your power”.
The letter, written by Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten added “I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.”
“I am 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,” he added.
This all started following Facebook’s decision to delete a post by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland which The Terror of War, a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut that showed children – including the naked 9-year-old Kim Phúc – running away from a napalm attack during the Vietnam war.
Egeland’s original post discussed “seven photographs that changed the history of warfare.” Egeland was subsequently suspended from the platform. Aftenposten quickly reported on the suspension – intentionally using the same photograph in its article and sharing it on the newspapers Facebook page. The publication then received a message from Facebook asking it to “either remove or pixelize” the photograph.
“Any photographs of people displaying fully nude genitalia or buttocks, or fully nude female breast, will be removed,” the notice from Facebook explains. Before Aftenposten could respond, the article and image was deleted from their Facebook page.
Hansen claims that Facebook’s decision to delete the photograph reveals a troubling inability to “distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs”, and an unwillingness to “allow space for good judgement”.
“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,” he wrote. “I think you are abusing your power, and I find it hard to believe that you have thought it through thoroughly.”
The Aftenposten editorial comes at a time of major criticism over Facebook increasing tendency to filter news. Hansen called for increased accessibility from the company, writing, “Today, if it is possible at all to get in touch with a Facebook representative, the best one may hope for are brief, formalistic answers, with rigid references to universal rules and guidelines.”
Facebook did respond to inquiries from The Guardian: “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,” said a Facebook spokesman. “We try to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a safe and respectful experience for our global community. Our solutions won’t always be perfect, but we will continue to try to improve our policies and the ways in which we apply them.”
Mark Zuckerberg has yet to comment directly on this topic.