Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has been accused of "abusing" his power as the "world's most powerful editor" by Norway's largest newspaper, which slammed the social network for removing an iconic photograph from the Vietnam War.
Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief and chief executive of Aftenposten, called for a change in Facebook's content rules and said the current state of affairs is stifling democratic debate.
"I am upset, disappointed — well, in fact even afraid — of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society," Hansen wrote in a front-page open letter for his newspaper.
The controversy revolves around a series of pictures posted on Facebook by Norwegian author Tom Egeland depicting scenes from the war. One image was by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut showing a naked girl running from napalm bombs. Hansen called it one of the "world's most famous war photographs."
Facebook removed the picture and prevented Egeland from posting a new photo, Hansen said.
Aftenposten also posted the photo on Facebook with an accompanying article. Hansen said he received an email demanding the removal of the picture on Wednesday, but Facebook removed the image and article before he could write a response.
In an emailed statement to CNBC, a Facebook spokesman said: "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."
"We try to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a safe and respectful experience for our global community," the Facebook spokesman added. "Our solutions won't always be perfect, but we will continue to try to improve our policies and the ways in which we apply them."
The June 8, 1972, photo showing children including a naked 9-year-old Phan Thị Kim Phuc gained Ut a Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography.
"The image was unprecedented at the time for the Associated Press news wire, due to full frontal nudity depicted of the bombing victims," the AP says in an online post. Ut's supervisors "deemed the photograph newsworthy and its value overrode the nudity in the image and it was widely distributed on the AP newswire."
Hansen said publishers find it "hard to avoid" Facebook and he doesn't wish to do so, but Zuckerberg should take more responsibility for his role as "the world's most powerful editor."
"Even though I am editor-in-chief of Norway's largest newspaper, I have to realize that you are restricting my room for exercising my editorial responsibility," Hansen wrote.
"I think you are abusing your power, and I find it hard to believe that you have thought it through thoroughly."
It was not only Aftenposten's image that was removed. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg posted the same image on her own page, and it was taken down by Facebook.