201610-Ching_photo

Credits: Inge Grødum

Two weeks ago, the press from Norway made a fuss about Facebook’s decision to remove a photo titled “Napalm Girl” on its site since it contains child nudity. It is widely known that this photo and the story behind carry a powerful message with great historical value. By removing the photo, Facebook not only raised questions on its vague “community standards” but also its abuse of power to suppress freedom of expression.


Facebook initially defends itself by claiming it is difficult to distinguish in what situations is child nudity appropriate although it recognised the significance of the photo. Facebook also promises to review and improve its censorship algorithms. After one day, Facebook announces to reinstate the photo after reviewing the company’s censorship guidelines and considering the historical value behind the iconic photo.

I may not be a crisis-management expert but I am quite sure that Facebook is not showing us (all Facebook users) a good demonstration of a well-planned communication strategy.

First of all, Facebook expresses the difficulty of identifying under what circumstance is child nudity appropriate to be posted though the significance of the photo is well recognized. Facebook’s response indirectly reveals the vagueness of their censorship guidelines, raises concerns for the blueprint of poorly-defined standards and showcases the lack of transparency of their customer facing policies. . Adding fuel to the fire, it seems that Facebook does not even bother to try persuading us that the company is doing the right thing at the outset (obviously not to me) by stating the specific guidelines violated by the photo in question.

In addition, if Facebook really agreed with the significance of the photo in the first place, there is no reason to allow the lengthy deliberation of before the reinstatement. Facebook could have proactively verified the importance of the photo once there are discussions about this incident and save time in coming up with the ‘lame’ excuse, which might have lessened the impact of this incident.

Secondly, Facebook did not communicate to the public well after the incident. The statements disseminated by Facebook are reported through third parties, instead of communicating directly to their publics. With a humanised and friendly brand image, Facebook promotes the openness and connectedness between family and friends. Yet, it seems to be doing something totally opposite to this core value of the company. As a matter of fact, no official press release is found explaining the incident on their website. Mark Zuckerberg also did not respond to the open letter from the editor-in-chief of Norway’s largest newspaper to clarify the incident. It again shows that Facebook is not as open as we think it is.

Further alleviating the problem is that it is not the first time Facebook had issues with their algorithms and censorship guidelines.[ ][ ] Resentment and scepticism have already been accumulated, it is therefore not a choice but a responsibility for this social media giant to handle incidents like this with extra “care”. Simply reinstating the photo may not be enough as a closure. The public concern is the freedom of speech and the abuse of power by Facebook to edit and filter what the company considered unfavourable content, which has yet been addressed.

Dear Mark Zuckerberg, please pay attention to what your users concern and fix your customer facing communication strategy accordingly.

Source and related commentary about Facebook’s censorship guidelines:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/facebook-censorship-vietnam-photo-norwegian-paper_us_57d2c6b6e4b06a74c9f42fdb?ir=WorldPost&utm_hp_ref=world

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/09/facebook-reinstates-napalm-girl-photo

https://www.wired.com/2016/09/norway-right-pissed-facebook-photo-censorship/