As It Happens

After 'Napalm girl' U-turn, newspaper editor says Facebook still has too much power

Facebook decides to stop censoring one of the most famous photos from the Vietnam war, but Espen Egil Hansen, the newspaper editor who led the charge against the ban, says the social media giant has too much power over our freedom of speech.
On Friday, Facebook lifted a censorship ban on Nick Ut's Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a naked girl fleeing Napalm bombs during the Vietnam War. (Nick Ut/AP)
On Friday, Facebook announced that it is going to stop censoring one of the most famous images of the Vietnam war. The photo features a young girl during the Vietnam war running naked and screaming from her burns, towards the camera.

The image earned Nick Ut, the photographer, a Pulitzer Prize. But when a Norwegian novelist shared it earlier this month, Facebook treated it like child pornography and his account was blocked.

Espen Egil Hansen, editor of the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, published an open letter calling out Facebook for censoring the iconic "Napalm girl" photographer. (Stein J. Bjorge/Aftenpost)

Then, when the Norwegian daily Aftenposten reported on the story, the social media giant deleted the photo from their posts as well. Aftenposten's editor-in-chief, Espen Egil Hansen, decided to write a very public letter to the social media giant's founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
After pressure, Facebook reversed its decision on Friday afternoon.

Hansen spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why he feels Facebook continues to hold too much power over freedom of speech. Here is part of their conversation.

Carol Off: Espen, why did you take on this case and pick a fight with one of the world's most powerful corporations?

Espen Egil Hansen: The case is larger than just this picture. It's important because Facebook has become so powerful. There is so much information, so much of the public opinion and speech is going through Facebook, so how they handle their rules, how they handle these difficult questions, is really important.

CO: This is a larger debate as you point out, but this particular photograph, why was it so important that one be free to publish that or put that on Facebook?

EEH: It became an important symbol because of the history of just this picture. Remember, it was published in the 70s during the Vietnam war and it was one of those images that really changed our view. It changed the public debate about the Vietnam war and it showed the importance of having a press, having a place to put forward information [and] pictures. Even if it was unpleasant, it made us all discuss - is this what we want? Just that mechanism is democracy in a nutshell and what I fear now with a corporation like Facebook becoming so powerful is that we will lack just that mechanism.

Kim Phuc in 2015, the child in the iconic photo, issued a statement saying she fully supports publishing the photo as "a moment of truth that captures the horror of war and the effect on innocent civilians." (Nick Ut/AP)

CO: Facebook says that they can't distinguish between this photo, that changed history as you point out ... they can't distinguish between this naked child and that of a naked child in a pornographic image. What do you think of the principle that Facebook says it was trying to uphold?

EEH: It's nonsense that they can't distinguish and today, they have showed that they can.

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Espen Egil Hansen.