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Facebook U-turn over Norway PM's Vietnam war 'napalm girl' post

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 backed down after a row over censorship after it deleted a post by the Norwegian prime minister that featured the iconic 1972 image of a girl running from a napalm attack in Vietnam.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning image by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut is at the centre of a heated debate about freedom of speech in Norway after Facebook deleted it from a Norwegian author's page last month.

However, following a public backlash, the social network backed down.

Facebook said it had "listened to the community" and acknowledged the "global importance" of the photo.

"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," it said in a statement.

"It will take some time to adjust these systems but the photo should be available for sharing in the coming days.

"We are always looking to improve our policies to make sure they both promote free expression and keep our community safe."

Many outraged Norwegians posted the photo on Facebook in protest over the decision, with Prime Minister Erna Solberg joining with the protest on Friday. Facebook removed her post within hours, said Sigbjorn Aanes, one of Ms Solberg's aides.

"What they do by removing images of this kind, whatever (the) good intentions, is to edit our common history," Ms Solberg told the Norwegian news agency NTB.

Facebook, in a statement from its European headquarters in London, originally said: "It's difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others."

The girl in the image, Kim Phuc, is naked and crying as the napalm melted away layers of her skin.

Several Norwegian government members 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 an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on its website on Friday 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".

Paul Colford, AP vice president and director of media relations, said: "The Associated Press is proud of Nick Ut's photo and recognises its historical impact. In addition, we reserve our rights to this powerful image."

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