Facebook changes its mind, and says it’s okay to publish an iconic war photo, after all

After removing several posts that used a famous photograph from the Vietnam War, Facebook has changed its mind and decided that it's okay after all.

Facebook says that it's acceptable for its users to see and share "The Terror of War," a 1972 photo that shows a naked 9-year-old girl fleeing a napalm attack.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Earlier this week Facebook had decided that the image violated its community standards, and then deleted a Norwegian journalist's post about the photo, triggering a chain of complaints from people including Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Her post on Facebook, which also used the photo, was also deleted.

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As of yesterday, Facebook was insisting that this was a feature, not a bug, telling reporters that "it's difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others" — even when that Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph is one of the best-known images in the world.

Now Facebook has reconsidered. Perhaps because it's embarrassing for one of the world's most powerful companies to say they're stumped by this kind of problem. Perhaps because Facebook leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Cox genuinely believe this is the kind of image Facebook should be sharing with its users.

Maybe both things are true.

Facebook says it will "reinstate the image on Facebook, where we are aware it has been removed," which presumably means it will republish the posts it deleted.

It also says it might take a while: "It will take some time to adjust these systems, but the photo should be available for sharing in the coming days."

Facebook doesn't say it's going to make any kind of permanent change to keep this thing from happening again. But it doesn't say it won't, either.

Here's the statement:

After hearing from our community, we looked again at how our Community Standards were applied in this case. 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. In this case, we recognize the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time. Because of its status as an iconic image of historical importance, the value of permitting sharing outweighs the value of protecting the community by removal, so we have decided to reinstate the image on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed. We will also adjust our review mechanisms to permit sharing of the image going forward. It will take some time to adjust these systems but the photo should be available for sharing in the coming days. We are always looking to improve our policies to make sure they both promote free expression and keep our community safe, and we will be engaging with publishers and other members of our global community on these important questions going forward.

By Peter Kafka, Recode.net.

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