During the last few weeks Norwegians have been purposely uploading the famous Napalm Girl picture to facebook fully knowing the social media giant will take it down. The uploads were in revolt to facebook’s censorship.
The image in question is a 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from AP photographer Nick Ut. It shows a young naked girl, Kim Phuc, fleeing with other children from a napalm attack in Vietnam. This photo is important in world history as it is considered the image that changed public opinion about the Vietnam War. Such images are a document of what has happened in the world and are vitally important such as the recent Drowned Syrian Boy image, which brought world wide attention to the refugee crisis.
The reason Facebook continually removed the Napalm Girl was because it believed the girl’s nudity infringed on their ‘community standards’. However, it is curious that images of death, such as the Drowned Syrian Boy and The Falling Man, are accepted by Facebook.
Erna Solberg, Norway’s Prime Minister, earlier today posted the Napalm Girl to her profile on Facebook. It wasn’t long before the image was taken down. Solberg made a statement about Facebook’s censorship:
“Facebook is making a mistake when it censors these types of photos. It contributes to limiting freedom of expression… I support a healthy, open and free debate – online and elsewhere. But I say no to this type of censorship.”
Today, the editor of Aftenposten, Norway’s biggest newspaper, accused Facebook, and specifically Mark Zuckerberg, of punishing users who criticize “the world’s most powerful editor”. On the front page of the newspaper, the Napalm Girl was featured along side a letter to Mark Zuckerberg from the editor-in-chef, Espen Egil Hansen. He declares that Facebook is abusing its power and threatening “editorial freedom”.
Aftenposten also released a video to Facebook:
This is the letter in full:
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.
First some background. A few weeks ago the Norwegian author Tom Egeland posted an entry on Facebook about, and including, seven photographs that changed the history of warfare. You in turn removed the picture of a naked Kim Phuc, fleeing from the napalm bombs – one of the world’s most famous war photographs.
Tom then rendered Kim Phuc’s criticism against Facebook for banning her picture. Facebook reacted by excluding Tom and prevented him from posting a new entry.
Listen, Mark, this is serious. First you create rules that don’t distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs. Then you practice these rules without allowing space for good judgement. Finally you even censor criticism against and a discussion about the decision – and you punish the person who dares to voice criticism.
Aftenposten’s Editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen.
Facebook is for the pleasure and benefit of the whole world, myself included, on a number of levels. I myself, for instance, keep in touch with my brothers via a closed group centered on our 89 year old father. Day by day we share joys and concerns.
Facebook has become a world-leading platform for spreading information, for debate and for social contact between persons. You have gained this position because you deserve it.
But, dear Mark, you are the world’s most powerful editor. Even for a major player like Aftenposten, Facebook is hard to avoid. In fact we don’t really wish to avoid you, because you are offering us a great channel for distributing our content. We want to reach out with our journalism.
Aftenposten’s print front page Friday.
However, 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. This is what you and your subordinates are doing in this case.
I think you are abusing your power, and I find it hard to believe that you have thought it through thoroughly.
Let me return to the picture I mentioned by Nick Ut. The napalm-girl is by far the most iconic documentary photography from the Vietnam war. The media played a decisive role in reporting different stories about the war than the men in charge wanted them to publish. They brought about a change of attitude which played a role in ending the war. They contributed to a more open, more critical debate. This is how a democracy must function.
The free and independent media have an important task in bringing information, even including pictures, which sometimes may be unpleasant, and which the ruling elite and maybe even ordinary citizens cannot bear to see or hear, but which might be important precisely for that reason
Listen, Mark, this is serious!
«If liberty means anything at all, British George Orwell wrote in the preface to Animal Farm, «it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.»
The media have a responsibility to consider publication in every single case. This may be a heavy responsibility. Each editor must weigh the pros and cons.
This right and duty, which all editors in the world have, should not be undermined by algorithms encoded in your office in California.
The original post on Aftenposten’s Facebook page.
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 paedophile person somewhere might see the picture as pornography?
Facebook’s Mission Statement states that your objective is to “make the world more open and connected”.
In reality you are doing this in a totally superficial sense.
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.
To pretend that it is possible to create common, global rules for what may and what may not be published, only throws dust into peoples’ eyes.
It is clear that censorship standards are different around the world, but when a country known and praised for peace, recognises that a media giant is using its power to dictate its own agenda, the world should listen and take action to join Norway.
However, after the pressure Norwegians have put on the social media giant, Facebook has now retracted its initial stance, stating the following:
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.
Let’s hope that this is the beginning of the end to social media giants dictating what constitutes free speech and world history.