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Facebook eases content standards as rights groups ask for clarity

Facebook will allow more content on its platform that it would have earlier removed because it violated its standards, a senior company executive said on Monday, Oct. 31, following the controversy over the removal of an iconic Vietnam War photo.H...

A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display in this illustration taken in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dec. 16, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display in this illustration taken in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dec. 16, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
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Facebook will allow more content on its platform that it would have earlier removed because it violated its standards, a senior company executive said on Monday, Oct. 31, following the controversy over the removal of an iconic Vietnam War photo.

His comments come after a dispute in September between the company and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg after Facebook deleted the photo of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack, called "The Terror of War."

"We have made a number of policy changes after The Terror of War photo. We have improved our escalation process to ensure that controversial stories and images get surfaced more quickly," said Patrick Walker, Facebook's director of media partnership for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

"(And) in the weeks ahead, we are going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest, even if they might otherwise violate our standards," Walker told a meeting of the Association of Norwegian Editors in Oslo, to which he was invited following the row, by both the association and the Norwegian culture minister.

"We will work with our community and partners to explore exactly how to do this," he said. "Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing a safety risk or showing graphic images to minors or others who do not want to see them."

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More than 70 rights groups asked Facebook on Monday to clarify its policies for removing content, especially at the behest of governments, alleging the company has repeatedly censored postings that document human rights violations.

In a letter sent to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, the organizations criticize the social media company for cases in recent months where it has deleted content involving police violence, removed iconic imagery from the Vietnam war and briefly suspended accounts belonging to two Palestinian journalists.

"News is not just getting shared on Facebook: it's getting broken there," reads the letter, whose signatories include the American Civil Liberties Union, Sierra Club, Center for Media Justice and SumOfUs.

"When the most vulnerable members of society turn to your platform to document and share experiences of injustice, Facebook is morally obligated to protect that speech," it continues.

Facebook re-instated the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph after Solberg and others accused Facebook of censorship and of editing history by erasing the image from their accounts under its restrictions on nudity.

Facebook backed down, ruling that the historical importance of the photo outweighed the company's nudity rules.

Facebook announced in a blog post earlier this month that, in response to "continued feedback" on content removals, it would begin weighing news value more heavily when deciding whether to block content.

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