Democracy in Computational Conditions
Warren Sack, "Democracy in Computational Conditions", in Fellows : Démocratie et numérique, n° 14, November 2016
In early September 2016, Aftenposten, the Norwegian conservative daily newspaper, shared on its Facebook account one of the most iconic images from the Vietnam War – Nick Ut’s photograph of a naked, screaming child running away from napalm bombs. Facebook censored the post. First, Facebook sent Aftenposten an email saying that, because of the nudity, it violated Facebook’s policies and requested it be either pixelated or taken down. Second, without any correspondence with Aftenposten, Facebook took the picture down. Third, when the journalist responsible for posting the image tried to dispute Facebook’s action, he was banned from posting for twenty-four hours. Aftenposten’s editor-in-chief, Espen Egil Hansen, was angry and unsettled by Facebook’s intervention. He wrote an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The issue exploded into the media all over the world and is still sizzling weeks later.
What is the big deal? After all, ultimately, Facebook reversed itself and allowed publication of the photo. But, Hansen did not let the issue drop because he thinks Facebook’s censorship is a systematic problem and not just an isolated incident. Hansen describes the problem like this: “An increasing part of the population states that Facebook is their main deliverer of information about what is going on in the world. Zuckerberg is de facto the most powerful editor-in-chief on the globe. [He] mainly exerts his editorial responsibility by means of advanced algorithms that control what information we get to see and what we don’t.”