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Facebook reverses decision to censor Vietnam War photo after public criticism

Facebook had initially said the picture, which depicted a nine-year-old naked girl running from a napalm attack, violated its standards of nudity. Photograph: (Getty)

Reuters San Francisco, CA, United States Sep 10, 2016, 12.43 AM (IST)
Facebook has reversed its decision to remove an iconic photo of a nine-year-old naked girl escaping an attack from the Vietnam War after widespread criticism in Norway, including from their prime minister, who said the photo "shaped world history."

Facebook, which earlier deleted the picture posted by Norwegian author Tom Edgeland and the country's prime minister Erna Solberg citing nudity rules, later accepted the validity of the criticism.

"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 recognise the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time," the company said in a statement. 

After Facebook reversed its decision, Solberg told the BBC she was a "happy prime minister." 

Egeland, echoed in a tweet, "Now I'm happy!.

Considered one of the war's defining images, the 1972 picture of a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack was taken by photographer Nick Ut Cong Huynh for Associated Press and was honoured with the Pulitzer Prize.

Solberg, who is the first head of state to be censured by Facebook, had posted the picture amid a brewing debate in Norway that began after Edgeland's post was deleted a few weeks back. Norwegians rose to his defence and published the photo in the name of freedom of expression, only to find their posts deleted.

The controversy began several weeks ago after Norwegian author Tom Egeland published a post about war photos, illustrated by the iconic picture. It was promptly deleted by Facebook. (Image source: Flickr)


"While we recognise 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," a Facebook spokesperson had said in an email to AFP, adding, "We try to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a safe and respectful experience for our global community."

Solberg refused to back down, re-posting the photo on her Facebook page, along with several other iconic pictures with sections blacked out, in an attempt to illustrate the absurdity of censoring historic images.

"What Facebook is doing by deleting photos like this, as good as their intentions are, is to edit our common history," she wrote in a later post. "I hope Facebook will take advantage of this opportunity to review its editorial policy," she had said earlier.


On Friday, Norway's biggest daily Aftenposten dedicated its front page in its print edition to the photo, and published a two-page open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. "I write you this letter because I'm concerned by the fact that the biggest media in the world is limiting freedoms instead of trying to broaden them, and because this is happening in a sometimes authoritarian fashion," editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen wrote under the headline "Dear Mark."

This is not the first time Facebook has been accused of censorship. The company has in the past blocked several artworks. It is to go on trial in France after a schoolteacher accused it of censorship for blocking his account after he posted a photo of a painting by Gustave Courbet called "L'Origine du monde" (The Origin of the World) that shows a woman's genitals.

(WION with inputs from agencies)
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