Facebook Bows to Pressure and Reinstates ‘Napalm Girl’ Photo

Updated on
  • Norway PM says Facebook censorship restricts freedom of speech
  • Facebook tries to balance free speech and offensive material

Facebook Inc. bowed to public pressure Friday and reinstated the iconic “Napalm Girl” Vietnam War picture on the world’s largest social-media service.

Facebook had earlier removed the Pulitzer-prize winning shot from Norwegian thriller writer Tom Egeland’s profile because of its rules on nudity. That sparked protests, including one from Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

“After hearing from our community, we looked again at how our Community Standards were applied in this case,” Facebook said Friday in a statement. “In this case, we recognize the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time. 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, so we have decided to reinstate the image.”

After Nick Ut’s photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc running down a street after being injured in a napalm attack on her village in 1972 was excised from Egeland’s Facebook page, Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten published the picture on its Facebook page, which was also censored. The newspaper Friday published an open letter to Facebook co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg to protest the action. Solberg posted the image, which is recognized across the world as depicting the horror of war, to her own profile and re-published a mock-edited version after it was removed by Facebook.

“What Facebook does by removing images of this kind, good as the intentions may be, is to edit our common history,” she wrote in a comment accompanying a post of the blacked-out version of the picture and several other iconic photographs. “I hope that Facebook uses this opportunity to review its editing policy, and assumes the responsibility a large company that manages a broad communication platform should take.”

Facebook is facing criticism over its regulation of content as it aims to find a universal standard to apply to its 1.7 billion monthly users, and bans on pornography prevent posting art or historic photographs like the one at the heart of the controversy in Norway. The company, based in Menlo Park, California, is trying to strike a balance between enabling free speech and limited material that is offensive or that could incite violence.

Erna Solberg / Facebook

Such challenges are increasing for Facebook, especially as it moves into showing more live and exclusive video on its social network. The company’s moderators have to judge the newsworthiness of violent and graphic images to determine if they are glorifying violence, which would be against its standards.

“We are always looking to improve our policies to make sure they both promote free expression and keep our community safe, and we will be engaging with publishers and other members of our global community on these important questions going forward,” it said in the statement.

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