Norway's prime minister on Friday challenged Facebook's restrictions on nude photos by posting an iconic 1972 image of a naked, screaming girl running from a napalm attack in Vietnam. Facebook quickly deleted it.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning image by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut is at the center of a heated debate about freedom of speech in Norway after Facebook removed it from a Norwegian author's page last month.
Many Norwegians have since posted the photo on the social media network in protest, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg joined them on Friday. Facebook removed her post within hours, said Sigbjorn Aanes, one of Solberg's aides.
“What they do by removing images of this kind, whatever [the] good intentions, is to edit our common history,” Solberg told the Norwegian news agency NTB.
Facebook, in a statement from its European headquarters in London, responded that “it's difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others.”
The little girl in the image, Kim Phuc, is naked and crying as the napalm melts away layers of her skin.
Several members of the Norwegian government followed Solberg's lead and posted the photo on their Facebook pages. One of them, Education Minister Torbjorn Roe Isaksen, said it was “an iconic photo, part of our history.”
Solberg later reposted the image with a black box covering the girl from the thighs up. She also posted other iconic photos of historic events, such as the man standing in front of a tank in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, with black boxes covering the protagonists.
“While I was on a plane from Oslo to Trondheim, Facebook deleted a post from my Facebook page,” she wrote. “Today, pictures are such an important element in making an impression, that if you edit past events or people, you change history and you change reality.”
Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten published the photo on its front page Friday and also wrote an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in which chief editor Espen Egil Hansen accused the social media giant of abusing its power.
Hansen said he was “upset, disappointed - well, in fact even afraid - of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.”
“We try to find the right balance between enabling people to express themselves while maintaining a safe and respectful experience for our global community,” Facebook's statement said. “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.”
Paul Colford, AP vice president and director of media relations, said: “The Associated Press is proud of Nick Ut's photo and recognizes its historical impact. In addition, we reserve our rights to this powerful image.”