In 2016, one of the most iconic works of photojournalism in history was inexplicably censored by Facebook. The reaction by news media outlets to this act of censorship was swift; however, the blame placed on an algorithm gone wild was not fully accurate.
The photo in question was taken at the height of the Vietnam War in 1972. The harrowing image depicts a group of frightened children, including a naked 9-year old girl, fleeing a napalm attack while United States soldiers follow in the background.
Facebook would later apologize for the incident, but the discussion on algorithmic censorship had gone viral by that time. The Vietnam photo incident brought up interesting discussion about Facebook’s role as a massive media channel and its rule by algorithms. It is easy to blame software routines, but it is also easy to forget that human input and executive decisions are coded into the Facebook algorithm.
In addition to the above, there’s another issue that Facebook has been left to deal with: the fake news stories that some analysts believe are part of a shadowy network of propagandists. These bogus stories are also believed to have played a part in the surprise 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.
On January 12, 2017, a Syrian migrant targeted by fake news decided to fight back by filing a lawsuit against Facebook. In 2016, when German Prime Minister Angela Merkel visited a migrant shelter in Berlin, Anas Modamani was inspired to take a selfie. That digital image would later be used by fake news authors to smear Modamani and to make him appear to be connected to terrorist attacks in Brussels.
Fake news stories have also linked Modamani to other attacks inspired by hate and terror. Since the stories were widely distributed across Facebook, Modamani has chosen to file a defamation lawsuit against the social media network. Facebook plans to vigorously fight this claim.