Facebook apologises to Norwegian Prime Minister for removing 'napalm girl' photograph

'The global and historical importance of a photo like 'Terror of War' outweighs the importance of keeping nudity off Facebook'

Jacob Furedi
Wednesday 14 September 2016 12:05 BST
"Terror of War" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972
"Terror of War" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972

Facebook has apologised to the Norwegian Prime Minister for removing an iconic photograph of a naked girl running from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War.

The photograph had been deleted from a number of accounts, including that of Prime Minister Erna Solberg, because it supposedly violated Facebook’s restrictions on nudity.

The social networking site’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg apologised for the mishap in a letter to Ms Solberg.

The picture was reinstated after Ms Solberg accused Facebook of censorship.

“The global and historical importance of a photo like “Terror of War” outweighs the importance of keeping nudity off Facebook,” Ms Sandberg said in a letter obtained by Reuters through a freedom of information request.

“These are difficult decisions and we don’t always get it right,” Ms Sandberg wrote.

"Nonetheless, we intend to do better. We are committed to listening to our community and evolving. Thank you for helping us get this right.”

“Terror of War”, which was captured by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut in 1972, won a Pulitzer Prize.

Facebook reversed its decision to ban the photograph due to its “status as an iconic image of historical importance.”

Ms Solberg posted the photograph after Facebook deleted it from the site of Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

The newspaper consequently received an email from the website stating: “Any photographs of people displaying fully nude genitalia or buttocks, or fully nude female breasts, will be removed."

After the picture’s removal, the Norwegian Prime Minister posted the image again with the nine-year-old girl, Phan Thi Kim Phúc, blocked out by a black censorship box.

In a jibe at Facebook’s decision, she also uploaded blocked-out pictures of Martin Luther King and the Tiananmen Square “Tank Man” protestor.

Norway is a big investor in Facebook, and its sovereign wealth fund has a 0.52% stake in the company.

As a gesture of goodwill, Ms Sandberg suggested Ms Solberg’s staff meet two Facebook officials who are visiting Norway.

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