Mark Zuckerberg accused of ‘abusing power’ after Facebook deletes iconic image of ‘napalm girl’

Editor of Norway’s largest newspaper says he is concerned ‘world’s most important medium is limiting freedom rather than trying to extend it’

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The Independent Online

Mark Zuckerberg has been accused of “abusing his power” by the editor of Norway’s biggest newspaper after Facebook deleted an iconic image of a child victim of the Vietnam war under nudity guidelines.  

Aftenposten’s editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen has written a front-page open letter to Zuckerberg expressing concern his “editorial responsibility” is being restricted by Facebook. Mr Hansen accused the social network of refusing to distinguish between child abuse images and “famous war photographs” after an article containing the 1972 image of nine-year-old Kim Phuc running down the street without any clothes on after sustaining severe burns in a napalm attack was removed. 

The image of Kim is one of the serving legacies of the horrors of the Vietnam war. The photographer Nick Ut won the prestigious Pulitzer prize for the image in 1973.  

The article that was removed reported that Norwegian writer Tom Egeland recently had his Facebook page temporarily banned after he shared a number of posts containing the image.

When Aftenposten reported on the ban and shared the picture again, they received an email from Facebook demanding it to be taken down or pixelised on the grounds of its nudity guidelines: “Any photographs of people displaying fully nude genitalia or buttocks, or fully nude female breasts, will be removed,” the email said. Before Aftenposten could respond, they claim the article had been removed.


Opening his letter, Mr Hansen, who referred to Zuckerberg as “the world’s most powerful editor”, wrote: “I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact, even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.

“Even though I am editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper, I have to realise that you are restricting my room for exercising my editorial responsibility. This is what you and your subordinates are doing in this case. 

“I think you are abusing your power, and I find it hard to believe that you have thought it through thoroughly.”

Mr Hansen said it is the responsibility of the press to report and share “unpleasant” images which reflect the horrors of war. Newspapers have a right to consider publication of every article which “should not be undermined by algorithms encoded in your office in California”, his letter continued. 

What has the US not apologised for?

Mr Hansen also accused the company of “censoring criticism” after their decision to temporarily ban Mr Egeland’s profile reportedly came after the writer shared an article from the Norweigan daily paper Dagsavisen which also contained the image. The article quoted Kim saying she was “saddened by those who would focus on the nudity in the historic picture rather than the powerful message it conveys”.

Mr Hansen concludes by explaining he has written the letter “because 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”.

A representative for Facebook told The Independent: “While we recognize 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. 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.”

A representative for Zuckerberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.