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Facebook blocks article on Yemeni crisis over photo of starving child

Facebook has since called it a mistake.


Samira Sadeque


Posted on Dec 17, 2018   Updated on May 20, 2021, 11:15 pm CDT

An article that features a photo of an emaciated Yemeni child has been flagged by Facebook as going against its community standards.

The New York Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof titled “End This Shameful War” was published on Wednesday, and on Sunday, a Twitter user pointed out to the writer that he was unable to share the article because of its “nudity.”

Kristof then retweeted it, indicating that some others were facing a similar issue.

Kristof later shared the issue on his Facebook page as well. “I’m now hearing from lots of people that you are censoring this photo of a starving Yemeni child that ran with my Thursday column,” he wrote. “Yes, indeed, it’s a hard photo to look at. But what’s horrifying isn’t the photo but the reality,” clarifying that he had permission from the family of the girl to share her photo.

Many agreed with Kristof, pointing out the hypocrisy of Facebook allowing actually offensive posts, some of which borders on harassment, despite being reported.

Some shared their theories that the war in Yemen, given America’s stance on it, has been blocked on Facebook on purpose, and that it’s happened before.

On his Facebook post, Kristof sums up his point aptly, “If Facebook is concerned, then it should help end the U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen that has brought 12 million Yemenis to the brink of starvation.”

On late Sunday evening, Kristof posted an update that a product official from Facebook had reached out to him and was looking into it. 

A Facebook spokesperson told the Daily Dot the block was a “mistake.” “As our Community Standards explain, we don’t allow nude images of children on Facebook,” they said. “That said, we recognize that people use Facebook to share content that is newsworthy and important to the public interest—those are exactly the types of images that we want to leave on the platform. We undid the mistakes we made on this basis, and people should be able to share Mr. Kristof’s column on Facebook moving forward.”

Yemen has been embroiled in a bitter civil war since 2014, an offshoot of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution which ousted its long-time dictator. The new era led to a resistance from the country’s Shia Muslims; Saudi Arabia responded to the resistance with a coalition of eight other countries in the region, leading to a war where nearly 400,000 children are at risk of starvation because of the “closure of all ports and airports” that block food and medicine supplies into the country.

The U.S. has been backing the Saudi-led coalition, which recently came under severe scrutiny following the Saudi government-backed murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Since then, many across the U.S. have denounced America’s support and alliance with Saudi Arabia.

On Thursday, a day after Kristof’s op-ed was published, the Senate voted to end their military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

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*First Published: Dec 17, 2018, 11:55 am CST