Facebook restored a post by Solberg which it had taken down over an iconic Vietnam War photo of a naked girl escaping a napalm bombing. The world's leading social network later backtracked on the decision to remove the PM’s post, which is believed to be the first such online censorship involving a government leader.
Solberg posted the photograph as part of an ongoing debate in Norway about the US-based media giant’s censorship and far-reaching powers.
Facebook restored Solberg’s post but stopped short of apologising, saying: “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.”
On Monday, the Norwegian PM shared an email that she had received from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg over the weekend.
“I am writing to personally thank you for the important issues you’ve raised regarding the photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phúc – and to let you know how seriously we take this matter, and also how we are handling it,” Sandberg wrote to the PM in a message that was shared with TV2.
Sandberg acknowledged that the 1972 photo, which was taken by photographer Nick Ut Cong Huynh for the Associated Press and honoured with the Pulitzer Prize, “played an important role in changing public perception about the U.S. role in Vietnam”.
She said it was the photo’s historic significance that ultimately led Facebook to shift course.
“We have global community standards that are designed to enable expression while providing a safe and respectful experience. Sometimes, though, the global and historical importance of a photo like ‘Terror of War’ outweighs the importance of keeping nudity off Facebook,” the site’s COO wrote.
“After hearing from you and other members of the community, we have decided to restore the photo. These are difficult decisions and we don’t always get it right,” she added.
Sandberg concluded by suggesting a meeting between Facebook officials and members of Solberg’s staff.
The prime minister also struck a conciliatory tone on Facebook over the weekend, writing that the social media company had made “the right decision” to reinstate the photo.
“It is commendable that mighty, global corporations like Facebook take a strong stance and act on their responsibility to fight sexual abuse and violence, and have strict guidelines to prevent images of child abuse and pornography spreading. But, once you decide to edit content, all of this work cannot be handed over to machines,” Solberg wrote.
While she said it was “encouraging that Facebook has listened in the case of this one picture” the debate had brought up very serious issues about “a media world that is undergoing rapid changes”.
“This debate is about more than this one picture, and more than just Facebook as a network. It is about the responsibilities large media institutions and platforms have to not pervert or distort reality,” the PM wrote. “It is about communicating history as it is, so that young people, who often have social media as their primary source for news and information, also gain insight into events that have helped shape the world we live in today.”