By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO (Reuters) - Facebook will allow more content on its platform that it would have earlier removed because it violated its standards, with new criteria being worked out, a senior executive said on Monday, following a row over the removal of an iconic Vietnam War photo.
His comments came on the same day that more than 70 rights groups asked Facebook to clarify its policies for removing content, especially at the behest of governments, alleging the firm had repeatedly censored postings that document human rights violations.
Only a month ago, the company and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg came into conflict after Facebook deleted the photo of a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack, called "The Terror of War".
Solberg posted the photograph on her Facebook page after the company had deleted it from the sites of a Norwegian author and the newspaper Aftenposten, which mounted a front-page campaign urging Facebook to permit publication.
"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.
Walker's comments echoed an Oct. 21 blog post by Joel Kaplan, Facebook's head of global public policy, and Justin Osofsky, Facebook's head of global operations and media partnerships, in which the executives said the firm would change its guidelines on removing content.
"Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing safety risks or showing graphic images to minors and others who do not want to see them," they wrote.
On Monday, Walker told Reuters Facebook was at the beginning of the process of changing its guidelines and could not give further details.
Reuters reported on Friday that an elite group of at least five senior executives, including chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, regularly directs content policy and makes editorial judgment calls, particularly in high-profile controversies.
To the audience of journalists, the Facebook executive said the company had to have global standards of content as it was mindful that content, such as nudity, that was acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in another.
Many were left unconvinced after the debate.
"Facebook is trying to isolate this as a question of rules about nudity, about being careful. But this is not the question I am raising," Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, told Reuters.
"The question is whether they now have such a dominant role in distributing information and news that they are becoming a threat against important democratic processes."
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)