Facebook Backs Off Censorship of Iconic Vietnam War Photo After Public Outcry

Facebook Generic - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Facebook Generic - Getty - H 2016

The social network had deleted several posts of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, citing child nudity.

Facebook has said that it will re-publish posts that include the iconic Vietnam War photo "The Terror of War" after facing criticism over its initial censorship of the image. 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo at the heart of the controversy, taken in 1972 and showing a young girl running naked from a napalm attack, is one of the most recognized images from the war. But Facebook deleted a post using the image from Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, who published it as part of a discussion on wartime photography.

The response across Norway was swift. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg posted the photo on her own page only to have Facebook also delete the post. And Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten criticized Facebook with a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg that chastised him for censoring the photo. 

At first, Facebook defended the decision to remove the photo, providing a statement to outlets including The Wall Street Journal that said it "is difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not in others." 

But now Facebook has changed its stance and has said that it will reinstate the image on Facebook where it was removed. In a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter by a Facebook spokeswoman, the social networking giant also said that it would adjust its review algorithm to make sure the photo is not censored in the future. "We recognize the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time," the statement reads.  

The initial censoring of the photo comes in the midst of a wide-ranging debate over the role of Facebook in the media, even as Zuckerberg maintain that the social network is a technology company, not a media company. The discussion began to gain steam in May after reports that Facebook's trending topics section was biased against conservative media outlets. Facebook conducted an investigation into the allegations and found no evidence of bias.

In August, Facebook removed its human editors for the feature and began to rely entirely on its algorithms to populate the section. Not long after the change, many users saw a false report in the trending section that claimed Megyn Kelly had been fired from Fox. 

Read Facebook's full statement about the decision to reinstate the photo here:

"After hearing from our community, we looked again at how our Community Standards were applied in this case. An image of a naked child would normally be presumed to violate our Community Standards, and in some countries might even qualify as child pornography. 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 on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed. We will also adjust our review mechanisms to permit sharing of the image going forward. 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, and we will be engaging with publishers and other members of our global community on these important questions going forward."