It was an ordinary, 40-minute flight from Oslo to Trondheim that I spent preparing for a speech I was to give upon landing. But when I turned my phone back on upon arrival, I noticed something very odd, something that had in fact never happened before. A post had been deleted from my Facebook page without any warning. I had shared one of the most iconic images from the Vietnam war – Nick Ut’s photograph of a naked, screaming child running away from napalm bombs, as a statement in the ongoing debate about Facebook’s editing policies.

Facebook has taken a strong, rigid stance against “indecent” images. And it is commendable that they execute their role in the prevention of the distribution of images containing violence and child abuse seriously. We all have a responsibility towards this. Yet, by failing to distinguish between such images, and others that have formed the fabric of our history as a global society, Facebook neglects another important role that it plays on the world stage. To erase posts containing such images is to limit freedom of expression, democracy, the right to criticize and question, and view past events as they actually were, not as they have been deemed to be by one giant corporation. I am happy to note that Facebook has now decided to reverse that policy in this particular case – but serious questions remain.

Media consumption today is increasingly digitized, but even more so it is curated. News and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Flipboard have overtaken traditional news outlets as our primary sources of information, of news, of connection to the world around us. They have become our most frequently visited sites, especially among the younger generations, and have empowered the public to create and share their own content. With this ease of access to information in today’s world, comes a great responsibility to enact policies that make positive contributions to society.

By exercising such overarching editorial rights, large corporations that ought to bring us closer together as human beings through transparency, end up altering history, and altering the truth. Already, Facebook and other media outlets’ algorithms narrow the range of content one sees based on past preferences and interests. This limits the kind of stories one sees, and in turn restricts access to a holistic outlook for the user. We run the risk of creating parallel societies in which some people are not aware of the real issues facing the world, and this is only exacerbated by such editorial oversight. As we move towards a more automated world, this is not a responsibility that should be surrendered to machines only.

vietnam-warBy deleting such iconic pictures that have played a crucial role in transforming world views on the pain and cruelty of war, Facebook is contributing to changing history. I want my children, and other children around the world, to grow up in a society where history is told as it was. In a society where they can grow into mature adults by learning from experiences of past generations, to be better informed citizens of the world. They need to understand what happened both in our darkest moments and our brightest. Today, images are the most powerful and important means of communication, and they must depict reality.

It would be tragic for history, for the truth, to be told in the version that comes from any one corporation’s mouthpiece. This is why I believe it is imperative that such outlets take their responsibility seriously, while exercising such great influence over their users’ access to information. We have today shown that through the power of social media, we can influence social media. Let’s continue to do that. It is after all a platform for and made by the people, where you can’t let machines run your morality.

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