News Agency Finds There Are No 'Take Backs' on the Internet, Even on Presidential Photos

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 4 2013 10:04 PM

French News Agency "Kills" Unflattering Presidential Photo, Then Really Wishes It Hadn't

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French President Francois Hollande smiles as he sits to chair a round table discussion on the changes in the school timetable set.

Photo by DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re the president of a country, you’re going to get your picture taken more than most people. And, unlike most people, when it’s a particularly bad picture, a lot of people are going to see it. These days, if you're a world leader, that's what you signed up for.

Anyone can untag an unflattering photo or delete an ill-advised Tweet, but when you’re a global news agency and you try to take away something you’ve already given the Internet, the Internet gets angry. That’s exactly what happened to French news agency Agence France-Presse on Wednesday, when it first distributed, and then tried to retract a particularly unflattering photo of French President Francois Hollande. Here's the actual photo that made the rounds below:

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The photo of Hollande marking "back to school" day in France, of course, isn't Christmas card material and may have come and gone with only a few snickers here and there. But, when AFP issued a “mandatory kill” order for the image because it was “deemed to be gratuitously unflattering to the president,” it went viral.

To try to explain the blunder, and the retraction, the agency did some mystified soul searching on the problem:

But the editorial decision to retract the photo – while it seemed sound at the time – created more problems than it solved. In trying to “kill” the photo after it had already been transmitted, we actually drew more attention to it and fueled the suspicion that AFP had bowed to political pressure, thus causing some people to call into question the agency’s credibility.

The order to kill the photo ironically breathed new life into this saga, and led to the image being massively shared across social networks in France, often accompanied by unkind comments about AFP.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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