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Facebook allows postings of 'napalm girl' photo after debate

Published 09/09/2016

The cover of Norway's Aftenposten as editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen wrote an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Cornelius Poppe, NTB scanpix/AP)
The cover of Norway's Aftenposten as editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen wrote an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Cornelius Poppe, NTB scanpix/AP)

Facebook has reversed its decision to remove postings of an iconic 1972 image of a naked, screaming girl running from a napalm attack in Vietnam, after a Norwegian revolt against the tech giant.

Protests in Norway started last month after Facebook deleted the Pulitzer Prize-winning image by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut from a Norwegian author's page, saying it violated its rules on nudity.

The revolt escalated on Friday when Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg posted the image on her profile and Facebook deleted that too.

Initially, it stood by the decision, saying it was difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others. But late on Friday it said it would allow sharing of the photo.

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

"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 on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed."

Politicians on all sides, journalists and regular Norwegians had backed Ms Solberg's decision to share the image.

The prime minister told broadcaster NRK she was pleased with Facebook's change of heart and that it shows social media users' opinions matter.

"To speak up and say we want change, it matters and it works. And that makes me happy," she said.

The image shows screaming children running from a burning Vietnamese village. The little girl in in the centre of the frame, Kim Phuc, is naked and crying as napalm melts away layers of her skin.

"Today, pictures are such an important element in making an impression, that if you edit past events or people, you change history and you change reality," Ms Solberg said earlier, adding it was the first time one of her Facebook posts was deleted.

Ms Solberg later reposted the image with a black box covering the girl from the thighs up. She also posted other iconic photos of historic events, such as the man standing in front of a tank in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, with black boxes covering the protagonists.

Several members of the Norwegian government followed Ms Solberg's lead and posted the photo on their Facebook pages. One of them, Education Minister Torbjorn Roe Isaksen, said it was "an iconic photo, part of our history".

Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten published the photo on its front page on Friday and also wrote an open letter to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in which chief editor Espen Egil Hansen accused the social media giant of abusing its power.

Mr Hansen said he was "upset, disappointed - well, in fact even afraid - of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society".

The uproar also spread outside of Norway, with the head of Denmark's journalism union urging people to share Mr Hansen's open letter.

Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who has previously clashed with Facebook over its failure to remove hate speech deemed illegal in Germany, also weighed in, saying "illegal content should vanish from the internet, not photos that move the whole world".

Facebook's statement said it will adjust its review mechanisms to permit sharing of the image going forward.

"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.

AP

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