On Friday, Facebook screwed up yet again and flagged Nick Ut's Pulitzer prize-winning photograph of Phan Thị Kim Phúc. After a massive wave of public backlash, the social network finally decided to apologise and reinstate the photo. Now, however, it's going even further with its apology — all the way to Norway. Image: Getty
"These are difficult decisions and we don't always get it right," Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, wrote in a letter to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, obtained by Reuters. "Even with clear standards, screening millions of posts on a case-by-case basis every week is challenging ... Nonetheless, we intend to do better. We are committed to listening to our community and evolving. Thank you for helping us get this right."
Solberg's Facebook account was a high-profile target of the initial purge, and even after the reinstatement, she wrote a piece for the Guardian strongly criticising the original decision. (Though as Reuters points out, she also apparently said she was "very pleased" with the decision to bring the photograph back.)
Originally, Facebook defended the removal thusly:
While we recognise that this photo is iconic, it's difficult to create a distinction between allowing a photograph of a nude child in one instance and not others. 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.
An image of a naked child would normally be presumed to violate our Community Standards, and in some countries might even qualify as child pornography. In this case, we recognise the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time. Because of its status as an iconic image of historical importance, the value of permitting sharing outweighs the value of protecting the community by removal, so we have decided to reinstate the image on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed.
Facebook has screwed up numerous times when it comes to improper content removal, and while apologies are fairly common, a groveling letter from Sheryl Sandberg is not. While Solberg's prominence no doubt factors in, it's certainly an interesting move on Facebook's part, one that's reminiscent of responses to other high-profile screw ups, including Mark Zuckerberg's meeting with conservative leaders after Gizmodo reported the website's trending news curators were suppressing conservative news.
Of course, a Sandberg apology means nothing if the mechanisms that prompted it remain in place, but at least Solberg now has something cool to show her kids.