Facebook is under fire again this morning in the latest instalment of a saga that is nowhere near ending: its pretense that it is not a media company.
The latest organ to take up the cudgels is Norway’s biggest-selling newspaper Aftenposten, which fell foul of Facebook’s algorithm/code of conduct/call-it-what-you-will-just-don’t-call-it-an-editorial-policy when it ran a story on how photographs had changed the history of warfare.
The article used one of the most powerful news photographs ever taken: the iconic picture of Vietnamese girl Kim Phuc running away, naked, from a village destroyed by a napalm attack by the South Vietnamese air force (trained and supplied by the U.S.). Facebook removed the article from Aftenposten’s feed and suspended its author when he tried to repost it. It appears Phuc had expressly urged Facebook to allow her image to be used.
The open letter by Aftenposten’s editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen, available in full here, is worth quoting at length:
“First you create rules that don’t distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs. Then you practice these rules without allowing space for good judgement. Finally you even censor criticism against and a discussion about the decision – and you punish the person who dares to voice criticism…
“…We don’t really wish to avoid you, because you are offering us a great channel for distributing our content. We want to reach out with our journalism.
“However, even though I am editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper, I have to realize that you are restricting my room for exercising my editorial responsibility. This is what you and your subordinates are doing in this case…
“The napalm-girl is by far the most iconic documentary photography from the Vietnam war. The media played a decisive role in reporting different stories about the war than the men in charge wanted them to publish. They brought about a change of attitude which played a role in ending the war. They contributed to a more open, more critical debate. This is how a democracy must function…
“Facebook’s Mission Statement states that your objective is to “make the world more open and connected”. In reality you are doing this in a totally superficial sense. If you will not distinguish between child pornography and documentary photographs from a war, this will simply promote stupidity and fail to bring human beings closer to each other.”
More news below.
Alan Murray is out.