Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco Friday 9 September 2016 02.15 EDT Last modified on Friday 9 September 2016 15.27 EDT Norway’s largest newspaper has published a front-page open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, lambasting the company’s decision to censor a historic photograph of the Vietnam war and calling on Zuckerberg to recognize and live up to his role as “the world’s most powerful editor”.
Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten, accused Zuckerberg of thoughtlessly “abusing your power” over the social media site that has become a lynchpin of the distribution of news and information around the world, writing, “I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.” The controversy stems from Facebook’s decision to delete a post by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland that featured 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.
When Aftenposten reported on the suspension – using the same photograph in its article, which was then shared on the publication’s Facebook page – the newspaper received a message from Facebook asking it to “either remove or pixelize” the photograph.
In his open letter, Hansen points out that Facebook’s decision to delete the photograph reveals a troubling inability to “distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs”, as well as an unwillingness to “allow[ing] space for good judgement”.
In his open letter, Hansen points out that the types of decision Facebook makes about what kind of content is promoted, tolerated, or banned – whether it makes those decisions algorithmically or not – are functionally editorial.