Facebook’s so-called “Director of Media Partnership” came to Oslo this week to face the social media powerhouse’s critics in Norway, who set off an international uproar over photo censorship earlier this autumn. Patrick Walker also had to face Norway’s government minister in charge of cultural issues, who wasn’t pleased that Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among those whose Facebook accounts were censored.
At issue was publication on several Norwegians’ Facebook pages of the iconic photo from the Vietnam War showing terrified children, among them a young naked girl, running from a napalm bomb attack. Facebook blocked the photo and threatened to cut off account holders who published it as well, because it violated Facebook’s rules against nudity.
“You must understand how shocked we were, when even the prime minister was censored,” Norway’s Culture Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland said at the debate meeting between Walker and various editors of media outlets including Aftenposten, which led the campaign against Facebook’s censorship.
The debate was hosted by the Norwegian editors’ professional association (Redaktørforening), and newspaper Dagsavisen reported that they did secure an admission from Walker that the war photo should not have been removed from Facebook. It was restored and Walker claimed the entire conflict had consequences within Facebook, which has since changed its rules. If other naked photos violate Facebook’s publishing rules, he said, a team of Facebook staffers will also evaluate whether it actually is of great importance or has news value that would warrant its publication.
“That’s exactly the kind of evaluation that makes you editors,” Aftenposten’s editor, Espen Egil Hansen, told Walker during the debate after Walker had once again insisted that Facebook is not a media house but simply a technology company. Walker claimed Facebook staffers don’t see themselves as journalists or editors but rather simply run a “platform for spreading news.”
Hansen was far from convinced, claiming that (Facebook founder) “Mark Zuckerberg is one of the most powerful editors in the world.” Dagsavisen reported that Hansen also criticized Facebook for being “arrogant” and bad at answering critical questions from a critical press.
Walker did concede that “we should be better” at external communication, “and answer questions.” He continued to insist, though, that Facebook creates the platform but not its content. It nonethess is necessary, he said, “to have rules for what we publish,” but with more than a billion postings every day, algorithms are needed to handle them.” It was the algorithms that censored the war photo and Prime Minister Solberg’s account, “but we see today that such a photo should not be censored,” Walker said.