Yesterday, a disturbing account of how a ruling by a judge in a case between Playboy and a website in Holland could change the face of online publishing in a negative way. The point being made was that judges around the world had too much powers and are legislating 21st problems using old laws and statutes.
Now, one of the pillars of the internet, Mark Zuckerberg, is being accused of doing the same thing, albeit in a different way. Press freedom, freedom of speech and censorship are the themes that run through both events.
The CEO of Facebook was accused by a Norwegian paper of using his immense power to censor the press and gag people from expressing themselves the way they deem fit.
Here is the background of the story.
The Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, published a photo of a naked girl on their Facebook page to accompany a report on the horrors of war. The post was made by Tom Egeland, a writer based in Norway. According to him, the photo (one of seven photos) changed the way wars and battles have evolved over the years.
That particular photograph is one of the most recognisable war photographs in the world and has been published many times by various media houses. The picture shows a naked girl running away from a napalm bombing by the US army during the Vietnam war that took place over 40 years ago.
Facebook’s grouse with the photo was that it violated their terms and conditions. Basically, it classified the photograph under child pornography. Which ever way you look at it, this is an absorb claim by Facebook. They ordered the newspaper to remove the picture or at least, blur it.
The newspaper refused and instead wanted to have a discussion with Facebook on why the photo was important and should be left that way. But Facebook took the unilateral decision to remove the image soon after. Tom Egeland was also suspended from Facebook.
And that was where the storm of criticism fell on Mark Zuckerberg and how he was trying to censor people who use Facebook in a manner he does not like.
The most famous of the criticism was the open letter from the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Espen Hansen. The compelling letter showed a man who knew his onions and what is right and wrong. Over the last few days since it was released, the letter has been referenced thousand of times.
Here is the a bit of what he said in the letter:
Listen, Mark (Zuckerberg), this is serious. First you create rules that don’t distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs. Then you practice these rules without allowing space for good judgement. Finally you even censor criticism against and a discussion about the decision – and you punish the person who dares to voice criticism.”
I implore everybody to read the whole letter. Hasen made some serious allegations against Facebook and their policies. The letter was especially hard on Zuckerberg.
The shit-storm following that letter forced Facebook to re-instate the photograph and lift the suspension it placed on Egeland.
Here is how Facebook tried to justify what was clearly a bad decision :
While we recognise 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.
“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.”
However, I think it was a bit harsh calling Zuckerberg names. The decision to remove the photo would have being made by a combination of humans and computers working at Facebook. And a case is only looked into if a user reports a post or a photo to the Facebook community in charge of deleting posts.
It wasn’t Zuckerberg’s decision by a long shot.
image credit: aftenposten.no; litbirthdays.wordpress.com; forbes.com; indianexpress.com