Here's Why Facebook Removing That Vietnam War Photo Is So Important
The social network needs to admit its responsibilities as a media entity.
Facebook is more than just a site where people share
photos of their children or pets. It has become a crucial way in which
hundreds of millions of people get information about the world around
And the tension between those two things is becoming difficult to ignore.
In the latest controversy involving the giant social network’s news judgement, Facebook FB -1.40% removed an iconic photo from the Vietnam War: A picture of a young Kim Phuc running naked down a road after her village was hit by napalm.
When a Norwegian newspaper editor—who posted the photo as part of a series on war photography—tried to re-post it, along with a response from Phuc herself, his account was suspended.
The editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, Espen Egil Hansen, then wrote an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticizing him for doing so, entitled, “Dear Mark. I am writing this to inform you that I shall not comply with your requirement to remove this picture.”
“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,” Hansen wrote. “Finally you even censor criticism against and a discussion about the decision – and you punish the person who dares to voice criticism.”
Get Data Sheet, Fortune’s technology newsletter.After the open letter was published, a number of prominent Norwegians posted the Phuc photo in support of the newspaper, including the conservative prime minister of the country, Erna Solberg. Her post, which was also critical of Facebook’s decision, was deleted.
“I appreciate the work Facebook and other media do to stop content and pictures showing abuse and violence,” the prime minister wrote. “But Facebook is wrong when they censor such images.” Removing such photos, the Norwegian PM said, is a curb on freedom of expression and amounts to the social network “editing our common history.”
In his open letter, Hansen described Zuckerberg as “the world’s most powerful editor,” and that is exactly what Facebook has become.
The social network’s size and influence—particularly for younger users who increasingly get their news there—means it plays a huge role in determining what people see or read about the world around them.
In effect, it has taken over the role that newspaper editors used to play in deciding what photos to show and which headlines to include. And it wants to host more and more of the world’s media content through partnerships like Instant Articles and Facebook Live.
The problem is that Facebook isn’t driven by the kind of news judgement or journalistic principles by which most newspapers and other traditional media outlets are driven. So far, it refuses to admit that it has any such responsibilities..................