Facebook Under Pressure

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Slate Magazine

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Late last week, the Norwegian prime minister did something relatively unremarkable: She posted a historical war photo on Facebook. But this was no austere shot of Winston Churchill or even troops on the battlefield. The famous picture depicted a 9-year-old girl running naked through the dirt streets of Vietnam following a napalm attack. A few hours after being posted, it was removed by Facebook for violating community standards. The Norwegian PM claimed “censorship,” and on Friday morning, the Norwegian daily Aftenposten decried the take down as “limiting freedom” in a letter on its front page.

A few hours later, Facebook put the picture back up, and reporters and the public were left to wonder what exactly had just happened. Some conjectured an error in algorithms on the site. Others just claimed censorship. None of that gets it right. But worst of all are the outlets that miscast the “napalm girl” takedown as a story of human “editorial” judgment gone awry, and not part of a larger picture how the public exerts pressure on the platforms that govern online speech.