Skip to main content

Sandberg admits Facebook messed up handling of ‘Napalm Girl’ photo

sheryl sandberg letter
Fortune/Stuart Isett/Flickr
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has expressed regret over her company’s oversight in regards to its removal of an iconic Vietnam War photo.

The platform’s deletion of the image from several accounts, only to later reinstate it, resulted in a damning report from Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that criticized Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for curtailing press freedom.

One of the users that published the 1973 Pulitzer prize-winning photo only to have Facebook remove it was Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg. The social network claimed the photo, which depicts a naked girl fleeing from a napalm attack, violated its nudity policy. In response, Solberg released a statement calling on Facebook to “review its editing policy.” The PM added that Facebook was editing “our common history.”

Sandberg has since penned a letter to Solberg addressing the incident, reports Reuters. “These are difficult decisions and we don’t always get it right,” wrote the Facebook COO. “Even with clear standards, screening millions of posts on a case-by-case basis every week is challenging.”

Sandberg claimed in the letter that it was a sign of “how seriously we take this matter and how we are handling it,” her remarks echoing Zuckerberg’s reaction to the Trending topics controversy that mired the company earlier this year.

“Sometimes … the global and historical importance of a photo like ‘Terror of War’ outweighs the importance of keeping nudity off Facebook,” wrote Sandberg.

In an interview with Norwegian broadcaster NRK, Solberg appreciated the response. “It shows that it helps to use your voice to say ‘we want a change.’ I’m very pleased with that,” she said.

Facebook is currently treading a fine line when it comes to the policing of its unparalleled social network. On the one hand it is increasingly being pressured into removing sensitive content by governments and law enforcement agencies. This was evidenced in its recent bid to quell the critical rhetoric from Israeli lawmakers by agreeing to work with the country to tackle incitement on the social network.

However, like other social media sites, Facebook is also trying to distance itself from controversial content on its platform by arguing it cannot be held accountable as it does not publish the material itself. Just this week, Facebook tried (and failed) to block a teenage girl’s lawsuit that claims it is liable for allowing a nude photo to repeatedly be shared on the site. Again, Facebook claimed that an EU directive provided it with protection from policing its entire platform over what is posted by an individual publisher.

Additionally, a committee of U.K. politicians recently demanded Facebook devote more staff members to the reporting and removal of sensitive content, in particular posts of an extremist nature. It all amounts to form a worrying trend for a company that is already pushing ahead with automating vast amounts of its platform.

Editors' Recommendations

Saqib Shah
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Saqib Shah is a Twitter addict and film fan with an obsessive interest in pop culture trends. In his spare time he can be…
Facebook, Amazon, Google teaming up with WHO to stop coronavirus misinformation
spacex joins efforts against coronavirus health screenings in indonesia for the wuhan getty feature

The World Health Organization (WHO) organized a meeting that brought together the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Google, with the goal of stopping the spread of misinformation about the new coronavirus, officially called COVID-19.

The meeting was hosted by Facebook at its Menlo Park, California campus, CNBC reported, citing a spokesperson for the social media company. Other companies represented at the meeting include Airbnb, Dropbox, Kinsa, Mapbox, Salesforce, Twilio, Twitter, Verizon, and YouTube, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. Apple, Lyft, and Uber were given invitations, but did not send representatives.

Read more
Mayor Pete thinks Zuckerberg is too powerful and it’s time to break up Facebook
Pete Buttigieg

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg criticized Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, saying that he has too much power and that the social network should be broken up. 

In a new interview with the New York Times editorial board published on Thursday, January 16, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, voiced his concerns over Facebook and how much power Zuckerberg has over the tech giant. 

Read more
New Messenger users now required to sign up for Facebook too
is facebook working on a messenger assistant powered by real people

Facebook accounts are now required for people who are signing up for new Messenger accounts, possibly hinting at the social media company's future plans for its messaging services.

In June 2015, Facebook opened the option for people to sign up for Messenger accounts without linking a Facebook profile, starting in certain countries that included the United States. The process could be completed using phone numbers, instead of Facebook accounts.

Read more