When Does Censorship Go Too Far?

Social media sites provide an online site where people can freely express themselves. However, most of these sites do have guidelines to protect their site and its users. They have the responsibility to take action when some of the content published is negative or can jeopardize another person’s life. But what happens when a social media site blocks an award winning photograph because it includes indecent exposure?


Recently, Facebook took the down the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph,

The Terror of War because it featured a naked child. The photograph is from the

Vietnam War and it features children running from the napalm attacks and soldiers.

A couple of weeks ago the Norwegian writer, Tom Egeland posted the award-winning photo on Facebook. Immediately after posting, the photo and his post were taken down because as Facebook noted it included indecent exposure.

Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten, then decided to post an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg with the photo. They received a warning notification that the photo should either be blurred and reposted or taken down altogether but before the Newspaper could respond, the photograph and post were taken off of Facebook. Tom Egeland and the editor of the newspaper were upset because they believe that Facebook is denying them the opportunity to their editorial responsibility. The photograph is a piece of art as well as a portrayal of a monumental moment in history.

Censorship can be important when trying to block out negative comments and images for children, or prevent cyber bullying. However, too much censorship can interfere with journalism and freedom of speech. Sometimes things as innocent as a baby’s naked bum could be censored on social media. Not only could it provoke some negative comments but in a way it does violate the child’s privacy. Although that photo may seem cute and innocent as a baby but when the child grows up the online history will follow that kid as an adult when he is embarrassed by the photo. This may have been the intention of Facebook wanting to censor The Terror of War photograph to protect the little girl in the photo.

Another similar example is the #FreetheNipple Movement, where Instagram took extreme measures and deleted almost all pictures with that hashtag. Although this movement was trying to promote a movement and try to un-sexualize breasts, the problem with the photographs is that it causes a lot of negative attention most of it being men who are sexualizing their breasts. Instagram is not only trying to protect their social media site and brand but also protect these women. Photos like these may be trying to bring awareness but may also jeopardize your future; a photograph of your breasts taken in college could cost you a job in 10 years.

Although censoring can help protect a company or someone’s image, there is a boundary crossed when social media censorship interferes with freedom of expression or a social movement. I think that an issue with social media sites creating enforcement, is the struggle of finding the balance between censorship and providing social media users freedom of their expression. Like the issue with Facebook and the Pulitzer winning photograph the Terror of War, there will probably still be issues with other art pieces on social media or simply a photograph for awareness that is taken down to avoid any problems like #FreetheNipple Movement.

Ana Lipson

Emerging Media Graduate Student

Loyola University 




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