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napalm girl
The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph was taken during the Vietnam War in 1972Photography Nick Ut

Facebook slammed for censoring iconic ‘napalm girl’ photo

A Norwegian newspaper has accused Mark Zuckerberg of ‘abusing his power’

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been slammed by Norway’s largest newspaper over his decision to “censor” a well-known photograph from the Vietnam War. 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning image, shot by AP photographer Nick Ut, was taken during the conflict in 1972. Widely regarded as one of the most iconic war photographs of all time, it shows a group of children crying in fear while running from a napalm attack. This includes, most centrally, a naked nine-year-old (known now as Kim Phúc or the “Napalm Girl”).

Despite the historical importance of the image, it has been banned repeatedly by Facebook for violating the site’s strict censorship rules. In reaction to this, Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten published a scathing front-page letter to Mark Zuckerberg; accusing the CEO of “abusing his power”, and failing to live up to his role as “the world’s most powerful editor”.

“I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society,” wrote editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen today (September 9). “I think you are abusing your power, and I find it hard to believe that you have thought it through thoroughly.”

The newspaper discovered that the image had been banned after one of its writers, Tom Egeland, tried to share it on his account. He ended up having his page temporarily blocked. It was then posted on the Aftenposten official account, before Facebook decided to remove it once again. “Any photographs of people displaying fully nude genitalia or buttocks, or fully nude female breasts, will be removed,” justified a reported email from the site. 

It’s not the first time Facebook’s restrictive rules have sparked controversy. The social networking site has regularly had trouble distinguishing between fine art and gratuitous imagery; banning Louvre sculptures and nude portraits regularly. “I am worried that the world’s most important medium is limiting freedom instead of trying to extend it, and that this occasionally happens in an authoritarian way,” added Hansen.

While Zuckerberg is yet to comment, a spokesperson for Facebook has issued a statement explaining the decision. “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,” they said. “We try to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a safe and respectful experience for our global community. Our solutions won’t always be perfect, but we will continue to try to improve our policies and the ways in which we apply them.”