Facebook censorship of a historical photo resulted in this inspirational letter of complaint to Mark Zuckerberg

A Norwegian newspaper has dedicated its front-page story to an impassioned open letter to Mark Zuckerberg after Facebook censored an iconic historical photograph.

The cover to Norway's largest circulation newspaper, Aftenposten
Aftenposten dedicated the entire front page to the letter (Cornelius Poppe/AP)

Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of Norway's largest newspaper Aftenposten, had received a demand his newspaper remove a historical picture of the Vietnam War from an article on Facebook. Before Hansen was able to reply to the request, Facebook removed the article altogether.

The picture which caused the problem shows a naked, nine-year-old Kim Phuc running from an aerial napalm attack with her cousins during the war. The image was being used as part of an article on seven photographs which changed the history of warfare, by Tom Egeland, but Facebook believed it should be censored and removed it. When Egeland sent a reply to Facebook the company banned him from posting a new entry.

Children run from napalm in the Vietnam War
'Napalm girl' depicts the brutal conflict of the Vietnam War and won the 1973 Pulitzer prize (NICK UT/AP)

"Listen, Mark, this is serious," the editor, Hansen wrote. "First you create rules that don't distinguish between child pornography and famous war photographs. Then you practise 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."

Hansen called Zuckerberg "the world's most powerful editor" and leader of a platform which is "for the pleasure and benefit of the whole world". However, he accused the billionaire of abusing his power and not thinking through the decision on the photo. Quoting Animal Farm writer George Orwell, Hansen wrote: "If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

"Try to envision a new war where children will be the victims of barrel bombs or nerve gas," added Hansen. "Would you once again intercept the documentation of cruelties, just because a tiny minority might possibly be offended by images of naked children, or because a paedophile person somewhere might see the picture as pornography?

"The media have a responsibility to consider publication in every single case. This right and duty, which all editors in the world have, should not be undermined by algorithms encoded in your office in California. Editors cannot live with you, Mark, as a master editor."

Pope Francis shakes Mark Zuckerberg's hand
Zuckerberg has a busy schedule, meeting the Pope only recently, and Hansen said he had "no illusions" the billionaire would read the letter (AP)

A Facebook spokesman told the Guardian: "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."

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