Facebook Can’t Tell the Difference Between a Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photo and Child Porn

The social media site just keeps deleting an iconic Vietnam War photo.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-11-47-19-am
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-11-47-19-am

One thing that likely didn’t cross Norwegian writer Tom Egeland’s mind when he posted a series of iconic war photos on Facebook? That his account would be suspended because the social networking site interpreted one of the images as child porn.

But apparently Facebook filters used to prevent inappropriate content from being posted to the site count a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of children running from a Napalm attack during the Vietnam War as inappropriate due to the fact that one child, then-9-year-old Kim Phuc, is naked in the shot.

“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,” a Facebook spokesman told the Guardian.

One thing that likely didn’t cross Norwegian writer Tom Egeland’s mind when he posted a series of iconic war photos on Facebook? That his account would be suspended because the social networking site interpreted one of the images as child porn.

But apparently Facebook filters used to prevent inappropriate content from being posted to the site count a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of children running from a Napalm attack during the Vietnam War as inappropriate due to the fact that one child, then-9-year-old Kim Phuc, is naked in the shot.

“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,” a Facebook spokesman told the Guardian.

Is it though? The photo, called “The Terror of War,” was taken by photographer Nick Ut and has been touted as one of the images that best captured the suffering of innocents during the conflict in Vietnam. For decades, that black-and-white image has been circulated in print publications and on the internet.

And this wasn’t just a one-off mistake on Facebook’s end. After Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, published a story about Egeland’s suspension and included the photo in a Facebook post shared from the newspaper’s account, it was told it had to take it down or pixilate Kim Phuc’s naked body.

That prompted a front-page editorial from the newspaper’s editor in chief, Espen Egil Hansen, who addressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and said he is “upset, disappointed — well, in fact even afraid — of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.”

“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,” he wrote.  

Even conservative Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg backed Aftenposten in the incident by posting the photo from her Facebook account, along with a caption that called Ut’s photo one that “shaped world history.”

“I appreciate the work Facebook and other media do to stop content and pictures showing abuse and violence,” she wrote. “But Facebook is wrong when they censor such images.”

But even as the head of government, she wasn’t exempt from Facebook’s strange ruling. Her post was deleted by the site on Friday morning.

Photo credit: Twitter/Nick Ut

Corrections, Sept. 9, 2016: Nick Ut’s iconic photograph is formally titled “The Terror of War.” A previous version of this article referred to its title as “Horror of War.” Also, Aftenposten is Norway’s largest newspaper. A previous version of this article misspelled the paper’s name. 

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