Outcry Prompts Facebook to Reverse Ban of Iconic Vietnam War Photo

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2016-09-10 Print this article Print
Facebook Censorship

"We will also adjust our review mechanisms to permit sharing of the image going forward. It will take some time to adjust these systems, but the photo should be available for sharing in the coming days. We are always looking to improve our policies to make sure they both promote free expression and keep our community safe, and we will be engaging with publishers and other members of our global community on these important questions going forward," the statement concluded.

This is, of course, good news. It's heartening that the company was able to see the error of its ways, at least in this instance.

But Facebook's actions speak to a much deeper problem now that this social network is trying to present itself as a news source for its subscribers. That problem is Facebook's apparent assumption that it is the arbiter of what constitutes news.

Before I go on, I realize that every news organization decides what constitutes news if only because you can't print or post everything. But for those of us in the news media, those decisions are made by people who can discuss the importance and the implications of running a specific story or photo. With Facebook, the decisions are made by a computer algorithm that exists in an all-or-nothing world.

What's worse is that when Facebook's robots make a decision, the service then punishes those who disagree. Imagine what would happen if the editors of my hometown paper, The Washington Post, were to cancel deliveries to households of people who complained about coverage. You'd have more than just a scandal, you'd have hearings. But apparently Facebook sees nothing wrong with punishing those with whom it disagrees.

This move toward punishment is where Facebook shows its true colors. It is not a reliable news source, and it cannot be as long as it tries to silence those who don't conform to the standards enforced by its algorithms.

One of the realities of journalists and the organizations for whom they work is that they must remain accountable to their readers or viewers. Even a lack of accountability is enough to distort the truth we journalists try to report.

To abrogate real-world accountability in such an egregious fashion as has been demonstrated by Facebook can only show that the organization, at least in terms of being a reliable source of news, is at least immature if not completely blind to its responsibility to the public.

This is too bad. But by pretending it is the protector of its users' morals, Facebook only shows why it fails at just that task. While Facebook must have some standards, those standards can't short-circuit real news.



Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel