Facebook censored the historic “Napalm girl” photo — why is anyone surprised?


Click to enlargeAP Photo/Nick Ut

❝ If you were to pick a handful of images that changed how people think about war, Nick Ut’s most famous photograph would surely be among them. The image of 9-year-old Kim Phuc running from napalm — her skin burning, her clothes burned away — defined the horrors of the Vietnam War.

❝ Norwegian author Tom Egeland had the lasting power of Ut’s work in mind when he shared the photo to Facebook weeks ago. But when Facebook’s moderators saw the Pulitzer Prize-winning image, they saw not its documentary significance or its impact on the world, but a violation of the site’s nudity policy.

Facebook’s moderators removed the photograph from Egeland’s page, along with its accompanying text. His account was suspended for 24 hours after he shared an interview with Phuc criticizing Facebook’s decision to censor this image, he said. But that was just the beginning of the incredible outrage at Facebook that has swept across Norway in recent days, becoming the subject of an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg from Norway’s largest newspaper, and rising all the way up to the country’s prime minister.

❝ After initially defending its decision to remove the photograph, Facebook decided to “reinstate” the image on Friday afternoon, according to a written statement from a Facebook spokeswoman. “We recognize the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time,” the statement reads. “Because of its status as an iconic image of historical importance, the value of permitting sharing outweighs the value of protecting the community by removal.”…

Corporate hogwash.

❝ While Zuckerberg recently said that Facebook is “a tech company, not a media company,” this incident highlights just how much control the platform can wield over what media its users do (and don’t) see.

Espen Egil Hansen, the editor of Aftenposten — Norway’s largest paper — called Zuckerberg the “world’s most powerful editor” in an open letter to Zuckerberg protesting Facebook’s censorship of the photo, which was published on Friday morning.

“I think you are abusing your power, and I find it hard to believe that you have thought it through thoroughly,” he wrote.

❝ The outrage in Norway escalated when Prime Minister Erna Solberg posted the image to her own Facebook page on Friday, after the publication of Aftenposten’s letter. “Facebook gets it wrong when they censor such pictures. It limits the freedom of speech,” she wrote in an accompanying statement that was translated by Reuters. “I say yes to healthy, open and free debate — online and wherever else we go. But I say no to this form of censorship.”

Solberg’s post, along with the statement, then disappeared. A spokesman for the prime minister’s office confirmed that she “did not remove it” herself from her own page — instead, Facebook deleted it.

❝ She later reposted the image — censoring Phuc’s entire body with a large black box — and called on Facebook to reconsider its policies. She paired the censored version of Ut’s work with several other censored versions of iconic photos, writing, “What Facebook does by removing images of this kind, good as the intentions may be, is to edit our common history.”

❝ Aftenposten ran its direct address letter to Zuckerberg on the front page of its paper. “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,” Hansen, the paper’s editor, wrote.

“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,” Hansen wrote. “This right and duty, which all editors in the world have, should not be undermined by algorithms encoded in your office in California.”

After more bullshit, Facebook finally relented.

RTFA and you’ll bump into all the rationales Facebook editors offered up to excuse and continue their censorship. Eventually, you can read their attempt to excuse their actions. It reads like a press release from any government, any corporate behemoth, trying to excuse a self-serving attempt to control access to history, to politics, to the freedom of individuals to decide what they wish to see and read.

That’s what it comes down to.

Don’t kid yourself about geeks being liberal or tech entrepreneurs automatically having the best interests of the world at heart. The breed has no corner on the market for kindness, care or concern – for either individual rights or the end of the world. Dollar$ govern the system. Don’t count on Harvard dropouts to be less likely to harbor bigotry and reactionary foolishness than any less-educated populist idjit.

Of course that includes the head of Facebook, the corporation. Ultimately, Mark Zuckerberg sets the standards of the company he started.

One thought on “Facebook censored the historic “Napalm girl” photo — why is anyone surprised?

  1. Newspeak says:

    In January of 2012 Facebook intentionally tampered with the news feeds of almost 700,000 Facebook users and skewed news feeds in an attempt to manipulate the emotional reactions of users and study how these manipulated users responded.
    Earlier this summer, the Wall Street Journal launched “Blue Feed, Red Feed,” a project that shows readers a side-by-side accounts of Facebook feeds as seen by conservative and liberal users. The news that readers of different political persuasions receive is vastly different, creating an “echo chamber” in which we are exposed only to news that fits our political alignment. Rather than informing the electorate and contributing to our democracy, the Facebook manipulation adds to political polarization.
    Not only have we learned that Facebook can censor our history, we’ve also found that the company can spread false versions of it. Last week, its new algorithm-run “Trending Topics” section featured a tabloid story that suggested bombs were planted in the Twin Towers on 9/11.”
    http://qz.com/779082/facebooks-censoring-of-the-iconic-napalm-girl-photo-showcases-its-disturbing-power-to-rewrite-history/

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