Facebook Bans Burn Survivor’s Photo Twice, Receives Backlash

This photo of burn survivor Lasse Gustavson was deleted from Facebook twice until people expressed outrage. (Photo: Courtesy of Facebook/Natthiko)
This photo of burn survivor Lasse Gustavson was deleted from Facebook twice until people expressed outrage. (Photo: Courtesy of Facebook/Natthiko)

Swedish meditation teacher Björn Natthiko Lindeblad was in for a rude awakening when he posted a birthday tribute on Sunday to his friend Lasse Gustavson, a beloved public figure and motivational speaker in the city of Gothenburg. He included a photo of the 60-year-old’s smiling face — a face burned severely 35 years prior when, as a professional firefighter, he was caught in a gas explosion. The devastating fire disfigured Gustavson’s face and left him without ears, hair, or eyebrows, according to the Telegraph.

That very same day, though, Facebook deleted the photo of Gustavson without explanation — and immediately bumped Lindeblad off the site. Baffled, he logged back in and reposted the image of his friend, but the photo was taken down again, on Monday, by Facebook administrators. According to the Telegraph, Lindeblad couldn’t fathom what kind of rule he might have violated, so he started looking for answers. That’s when other burn survivors began messaging him to explain that they’d experienced similar censorship on Facebook. “They said that actually this is a regular occurrence when burn victims post something where you can clearly see the burns,” he told the Telegraph.

Disturbed, Lindeblad decided to report the “problem” to Facebook on Monday. According to a screenshot, Lindeblad’s message claims that he’d posted the photo of Gustavson on his wall “with some appreciative words.” He explained that the photo received “lots of likes quickly,” but “within an hour, Facebook removed the photo and threw me out of my session. No explanation. Very 1984.” He explains that he republished the identical post, and it was pulled again.

“By now, a few Swedish people with severe burn damage contacted me and explained that it is common practice on Facebook to treat photos of people with serious burn damage the same way you treat photos with sexist or rasist [sic] content. What a despicable policy,” he wrote.

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Gustavson himself was diplomatic in his reaction to the censorship, speculating to the Telegraph that perhaps “Facebook risked adding to the suffering of those recently disfigured.” He told the publication, “When I was 24, I probably would have felt offended and upset that pictures of me were considered wrong and unpleasant,” he said. “It is a very volatile and sensitive time. … But now I have lived so long with my burns.”

But Lindeblad wouldn’t take it lying down. On Monday, he took to Facebook to expose the flawed policy to his thousands of friends and followers. Posting the photo of a beaming Gustavson a third time, Lindeblad wrote, in part, “You want to help me to speak out against a disgusting Facebook policy? Share or spread or love this photo of one of the most beautiful souls I know.” He explained the situation, then included a call to action: “So let’s let Facebook know what we think of the policy by disseminating this picture wildly!” he urged his friends.

And they listened. At last count, Lindeblad’s protest post has been shared more than 30,000 times and has received more than 26,000 reactions. Thousands of people cheered on the teachers and the beautiful friendship by leaving supportive comments. Lindeblad left a comment of his own too: the original birthday tribute to Gustavson, a man who has clearly made a huge impact on him.

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“It is thanks to people like you that I can do my job with joy. You reflected my light when most of it inside felt dark. You opened doors that seemed to me closed,” Lindeblad wrote in his touching message. “You are a living example [that] wisdom and playfulness go hand in hand. And you remind me, again and again, so much that is beautiful with true masculinity. May we get to have your light among us a long, long time yet.”

Love prevailed, though, as Lindeblad’s message and the outpouring of support caused Facebook to reinstate the photo and issue and apology on Tuesday that read, “A member of our team accidentally removed something you posted on Facebook. This was a mistake, and we sincerely apologize for this error.” Whether or not the move was actually a mistake — both times — is unclear, but Lindeblad is being cautiously optimistic.

He wrote on Facebook that he hopes the network’s explanation is true and that it’s not a policy to systematically censor photos of burn victims. He also praised the power of “digital networks” and expressed, “Thank you is not enough!” to all who helped mobilize the change.

Yahoo Beauty reached out to Facebook for comment but has not heard back.

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