Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website.

Content Moderation Case Study: Facebook Attracts International Attention When It Removes A Historic Vietnam War Photo Posted By The Editor-in-Chief Of Norway's Biggest Newspaper (2016)

from the the-terror-of-content-moderation dept

Summary: Tom Egeland, a Norwegian author of a number of best-selling fiction books, posted a well-known photo known as "The Terror of War" to Facebook. The historic photograph (taken by Vietnamese-American photographer Nick Ut) depicts a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War.

Ut's iconic photo brought the horrors of the war in Vietnam to viewers around the world. But it was not without controversy. Given the full-frontal nudity of the child depicted in the image, the Associated Press pushed back against Ut, citing the paper's policy against publishing nudity. In this case, the nudity of the child resulted in more resistance than usual. Ultimately, the AP decided to run the photo, resulting in a Pulitzer Prize for Ut in 1973.

Despite the photo's historical significance, Facebook decided to suspend Tom Egeland's account. It also deleted his post.

Facebook's decision was based on its terms of service. While the photo was undeniably a historical artifact, moderation efforts by the platform were not attuned to the history.

A notice sent to Egeland pointed out that any displayed genitalia would result in moderation. Also, given the platform's obligation to inform the government about Child Sexual Assault Material (CSAM), leaving a photo of a naked prepubscent up posed problems the algorithms couldn't necessarily handle on their own.

The decision to remove the post and suspend the author's account resulted in an open letter being sent by Norwegian journalist Epsen Hansen. The letter -- addressed to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- asked what negative effects moderation efforts like these would have on a "democratic society."

Decisions to be made by Facebook:

  • Should automatic moderation that aids law enforcement be overridden when context shows posts are not attempting to sidestep rules put in place to prevent Facebook users from being subjected to abusive content?
  • What value is placed on context-considerate moderation? Does it add or subtract from financial obligations to shareholders?
  • Does it serve users better to be more responsive -- and helpful -- when context is a primary consideration?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Is the collateral damage of negative press like this offset by Facebook's willingness to be proactive when removing questionable content?
  • Is it more important to serve private users than the numerous governments making moderation demands?
  • Do inexact or seemingly-incoherent responses to controversial content raise the risk of government intervention?
Resolution: Despite the letter from a prominent Norwegian journalist, Facebook refused to reinstate the photo. Instead, it offered boilerplate stating its objection to "nude genitalia." While it stated it did make "allowances" for "educational, humorous, and satirical purposes." Ut's photo did not make the cut apparently. Facebook asked Aftenposten, Egeland, and/or Hansen to "pixelate" the iconic photo before reposting. This was the response from Aftenposten's Hegeland:

Unfortunately, Facebook did not see the pointed humor of Hansen's modification. Facebook's deletion of the original -- as well as its suspension of author Tom Egeland's account -- remained in force. While public shaming has had some effect on moderation efforts by social media companies, Facebook's stance on nudity -- especially the nudity of minors -- prevented it from backing down in the face of negative publicity.

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Filed Under: content moderation, csam, historic photos, nudity, photo, tom egeland, vietnam
Companies: facebook


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2020 @ 4:43pm

    NOW warmongers / globalists / zionists know to hide evidence.

    THEY near entirely control the media and the message is always pro-war.

    Where was the daily reports on civilian casualties in Irag?

    Where are the gruesome pictures of Palestinians, men, womn, even children shot by a new kind of fragmenting bullet just for getting near the Israelis / zionist apartheid wall?

    [No "funny" screen name because serious topic and seems easier to get in today without.]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2020 @ 4:44pm

    Where are YOU on Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Maz?

    You almost never even at your true opinions. Only when must as with your advocacy of corporations controlling speech.

    I've been reading here for years, and never a peep from Techdirt about the savagery of American or Israeli forces abroad, even though almost every day you're complaining about American police as if you're concerned for the victims of violence. -- That's really just to attack the rule of law / build cred with your leftists fellow travelers.

    But when done on mass scale, you're a tacit warmonger.

    Your selection of topics shows who you really are. You prattle every day on minor "moderation" while ignoring millions of Iraqis dead, millions more wounded, the whole country destroyed, and similarly Palestinians, hundreds dead, thousands wounded, imprisoned by the rabid Zionists who invaded Palestine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2020 @ 4:45pm

    Just small sample of what you NEVER even mention:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2020 @ 4:46pm

    And now fanboys can accuse of "anti-Semite" when Palestinians

    are actual "Semites", not Europeans for a thousand years and then took over Palestine with a terror campaign.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 Nov 2020 @ 4:46pm

    Shut up, Meg.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2020 @ 4:48pm

    Re: Where are YOU on Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Maz?

    almost never even at

    almost never even HINT at

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Juan A. Monico, 20 Nov 2020 @ 5:02pm

    Since the girl in the picture, now a grown woman, is alive, well and living in Canada, has anyone asked her for her opinion. I know she has very strong feeligs on the subject.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2020 @ 5:18pm

    Re:

    And where were you, exactly, when Trump's administration didn't do anything to stop the atrocities you claim?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Tom, Dick & Harry (profile), 20 Nov 2020 @ 5:29pm

    Re: NOW warmongers / globalists / zionists know to hide evidence

    Where was the daily reports on civilian casualties in Iraq

    Behold:

    ... and more (just do the search yourself)

    THEY near entirely control the media and the message is always pro-war.

    Disregarding the above, there is more open speech now than 40, 20, 10 years ago. In history major news papers and cables controlled media dissemination but now everyone has a voice: making our own websites, our own social media (fediverse, mastodon), or choosing to use popular platforms.

    Alas, we are selective in choosing history.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Tom, Dick & Harry (profile), 20 Nov 2020 @ 5:37pm

    Re: Where are YOU on Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Maz?

    [. . .] never a peep from Techdirt about the savagery of American or Israeli forces abroad, even though almost every day you're complaining about American police as if you're concerned for the victims of violence.

    Welcome to Techdirt, an organization about technology, copyright, politics, content moderation, speech, and so on.

    There are many negative forces in the world (like you stated). There are many good forces in the world (like the humanitarian aid workers in troubled nations). That being said....

    Why are you here, trolling?

    I feel this applies: https://xkcd.com/2368/

    It says: "Your point that the world contains multiple problems is a real slam-dunk argument against fixing any of them."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2020 @ 6:52pm

    Re: Just small sample of what you NEVER even mention:

    Anybody reporting or offering an opinion on a thing has to report everything, every day, forever. Apparently.

    Why don't you try broadening your news intake a bit? And maybe get some of your other interests fed at sites with more reliable reporting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2020 @ 6:54pm

    FB might not see the value of the image, nor the humor of the edited image, but i don't see any rational reason to suspend the user account.

    I guess they'll have to ban all children ever since they are naked sometimes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Shel10 (profile), 20 Nov 2020 @ 6:56pm

    Content Moderation

    Content Moderation - Just a polite way of saying Censorship. The term is justified by saying community or societal mores are being applied. But how is this different from defacing historical paintings.

    The Vietnam War was terrible, and the photographer was simply trying the visualize the horrors for the folks back home and the rest of the world.

    A world war 2 veteran was asked by his family what he saw and did. His reply - "General Sherman once said War is Hell, he was right. I survived by the Grace of God. I'm home, and that's all you need to know."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 Nov 2020 @ 8:07pm

    Content Moderation - Just a polite way of saying Censorship.

    No.

    No, it is not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 20 Nov 2020 @ 10:52pm

    Re: Content Moderation

    Content Moderation - Just a polite way of saying Censorship.

    ...said exclusively by those who know nothing about either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2020 @ 7:33am

    Re: Content Moderation

    Content Moderation - Just a polite way of saying Censorship.

    We do not do or say that in this company, like various churches, clubs and other organizations like social media say, is not the same as as you will nor do or say that anywhere, enforced by state violence. The first allows you to go elsewhere to say what you want to say, the second does not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2020 @ 8:21am

    Re: Re: Content Moderation

    Could I get a little dressing with that word salad?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 21 Nov 2020 @ 9:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Content Moderation

    Huh. Those of us who are literate understood it just fine.
    Must be a you problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2020 @ 10:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Content Moderation

    idk, it seems a tad off to me.

    for example, the following -

    We do not do or say that in this company, like various churches, clubs and other organizations like social media say, is not the same as as you will nor do or say that anywhere, enforced by state violence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Nov 2020 @ 11:13am

    To be fair, it took me a couple of reads to parse it right. The sentence could use at least some quotation marks for emphasizing the words being “spoken”. Lemme clean it up a bit all around:

    “We don’t do or say that here” (like various churches, clubs, and other non-government organizations all say) is not the same as “you won’t do or say that anywhere” enforced by either violence or the law. The first allows you to go elsewhere to say what you want to say; the second does not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 21 Nov 2020 @ 10:26pm

    Re:

    Congratulations on successfully combining "FB" and "rational reason" in the same sentence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Jorges, 22 Nov 2020 @ 7:06am

    Re: “We don’t say that here”

    " At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right thinking people will accept without question.
    It not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other but it is “not done” to say it..
    Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.
    A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals. "

    (George Orwell "Animal Farm" )

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 22 Nov 2020 @ 8:57am

    Re: Re: “We don’t say that here”

    [Asserts facts not in evidence]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 Nov 2020 @ 10:12am

    Counterpoint: Alex Jones still gets to rant on InfoWars despite YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. all giving him the boot. “Silenced” doesn’t mean “lost access to a wider potential audience”.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 22 Nov 2020 @ 2:47pm

    Re:

    Not one person was prevented from reading that scam story in the New York Post.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Peter (profile), 23 Nov 2020 @ 4:44am

    You are kind of late - about 4 years and 6 weeks ...

    The incident happened early September 2016, Facebook reinstated the photo within hours, following a public outcry, and updated its guidelines a few weeks later

    While an update would be interesting, to see if and how the new guidelines work, it would have been nice to clarify that the article is about ancient history and not current events. Putting 2016 in the headline is not enough when the article ends with a suggestion that the situation is ongoing.

    https://petapixel.com/2016/10/24/facebook-updates-censorship-policy-avoid-another-napalm-gi rl-issue/

    Google search (see dates on results - Sept 9 (censored) Sept 10 (reinstated) Oct 26 (new Facebook guidelines). All four years ago - 2016

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Tom, Dick & Harry (profile), 23 Nov 2020 @ 5:46am

    Re: You are kind of late - about 4 years and 6 weeks ...

    The incident happened early September 2016

    Yes, it is stated in the title of the article. It's a case study of a past content moderation decision which is still useful to learn from, in present day.

    Title of article (emphasis added):

    Content Moderation Case Study: Facebook Attracts International Attention When It Removes A Historic Vietnam War Photo Posted By The Editor-in-Chief Of Norway's Biggest Newspaper (2016)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Shel10 (profile), 23 Nov 2020 @ 7:54am

    Re: Re: You are kind of late - about 4 years and 6 weeks ...

    First time I had seen this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Nov 2020 @ 1:04pm

    Re: You are kind of late - about 4 years and 6 weeks ...

    This is part of our content moderation case studies series, in which the vast majority of the case studies are for older stories:

    https://www.techdirt.com/blog/contentmoderation/

    We've done dozens of them, and many of them are old. Indeed, a key reason we focus on older ones is to see how they play out. It is indicated in the title of the post that it's from 2016 and at the top we note: "Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Nov 2020 @ 6:05am

    Re: Just small sample of what you NEVER even mention:

    "Forbidden Weapons and Israeli War Crimes..."

    So? I think that in the rare cases that we've had reason to bring Israel into this website about technology and social impact of technology there have been quite a lot of voices opposing quite a few of Israel's policies and more radical nationalist extremists.

    We could bring attention to the very dark signal it sends that people like Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu have received political office at all - because people like those are horrifying irrespective of whether they wear a yarmulke or not.

    We could question whether the "most moral army in the world" deserves that hype, given discoveries of extremist views on military bases in the region.

    And we could question the settler issue which not rarely involves allowing armed religious fanatics to build themselves an instant bunker within sniping range of palestinian farmsteads.

    What we won't do is to holler "ze jews!" without nuance the way you keep doing. That only serves to inform us that your rhetoric would be far better served in Stormfront than around here.

    And as for "american war crimes" not being discussed it's the same thing - as you would know if you'd been literate enough to follow the debates whenever snowden was mentioned on this forum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Nov 2020 @ 6:07am

    Re: And now fanboys can accuse of "anti-Semite" when Palestinian

    Maybe if you learned to type coherent sentences we'd actually know what you referred to.

    Although I doubt it because what you usually type out here hasn't indicated you're able to comprehend factual reality very well.
    In fact, your usual offer leaves me in doubt on whether you've even mastered object permanence yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Nov 2020 @ 6:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Content Moderation

    No, it's a parsing problem. Like Stephen T. Stone's I had to experiment with adding quotation, parantheses, and commation around that paragraph before it became a legible sentence.

    "", ;, :, '', () and similar signs exist in the english language for a reason.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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