Facebook executives feel the heat of content controversies

Fri Oct 28, 2016 1:05am EDT
 
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By Kristina Cooke, Dan Levine and Dustin Volz

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After Facebook's removal of an iconic Vietnam war photo stirred an international uproar last month, the social network's executives quickly backtracked and cleared its publication.

But the image - showing a naked Vietnamese girl burned by napalm - had previously been used in training sessions as an example of a post that should be removed, two former Facebook employees told Reuters.

Trainers told content-monitoring staffers that the photo violated Facebook policy, despite its historical significance, because it depicted a naked child, in distress, photographed without her consent, the employees told Reuters.

The social network has taken great pains to craft rules that can be applied uniformly with minimal discretion. The reversal on the war photo, however, shows how Facebook's top executives sometimes overrule company policy and its legions of low- and mid-level content monitors.

Facebook has often insisted that it is a technology company - not a media company - but an elite group of at least five senior executives regularly directs content policy and makes editorial judgment calls, particularly in high-profile controversies, eight current and former Facebook executives told Reuters.

One of those key decision-makers - Justin Osofsky, who runs the community operations division - wrote a Facebook post acknowledging that the removal of the war photo was a "mistake.”

“Sometimes,” he wrote, “the global and historical significance of a photo like ‘Terror of War’ outweighs the importance of keeping nudity off Facebook.”

Facebook spokeswoman Christine Chen declined to comment on the company’s use of the photo in training sessions.   Continued...

 
Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, is interviewed by Reuters in Washington DC February 2, 2016.  REUTERS/Gary Cameron/File Photo