Associated Press criticised for offering NFT of fleeing refugees crammed into boat

Associated Press and the deleted tweet
The social media backlash caused the news agency to reconsider. Photo credit: Getty Images / Twitter

The Associated Press has come under fire after advertising it was going to sell an NFT featuring a photo of an overcrowded boat of immigrants drifting in the Mediterranean Sea.

The news agency sent the tweet featuring a five second video from Brazilian photojournalist Felipe Dana, saying it was going to be made available to purchase tomorrow from its new NFT marketplace.

The social media backlash was quick and angry, and AP eventually deleted the tweet.

Journalist and author Dan Gillmor thanked the organisation for deleting the "wildly WTF tweet" featuring the refugees.

"Now please delete your 'NFT Marketplace' - because you are risking serious damage to your reputation by moving into a sleaze-ridden arena that encourages the worst kind of speculation," he added.

Others were even angrier.

"AP just deleted their disgusting announcement about their 'Exploiting human suffering NFT drop'. But they already did it, they already approved it, the leadership agreed this was a good idea," another person tweeted.

"You cannot walk back from that. F**k AP."

"They finally caught on and deleted it. For an industry giant who thrives on credibility, this was a breathtakingly stupid thing to do," a third tweeted.

"Knowing they still have an NFT marketplace, my previously solid trust of AP is now gone."

Around an hour after deleting the tweet the AP sent out two tweets to the 15,000 followers on its products, services and trends account.

"We deleted an earlier tweet promoting an upcoming NFT auction. This was a poor choice of imagery for an NFT. It has not and will not be put up for auction," the organisation stated.

"AP's NFT marketplace is a pilot program, and we are immediately reviewing our efforts. As a not-for-profit, AP's mission is to inform the world with accurate, unbiased journalism. That remains our primary focus."

At the time of writing, the AP NFT Marketplace is still open, with 13 NFTs for sale or sold, although none of the other tokens feature a subject as controversial as desperate refugees in a perilous situation.

The AP first announced it was getting into the NFT marketplace at the beginning of January, announcing a partnership with blockchain technology provider Xooa.

"The Associated Press will launch a non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace built by blockchain technology provider Xooa, where collectors can purchase the news agency’s award-winning contemporary and historic photojournalism," the company said at the time.

"The initial collection will feature photography by current and former AP photojournalists and a selection of digitally enhanced depictions of their work. Pulitzer Prize-winning AP images will be included."

Dwayne Desaulniers, AP director of blockchain and data licensing, said that for 175 years the agency's journalists had recorded the world's biggest stories "including through gripping and poignant images that continue to resonate today".

"We are proud to offer these tokenised pieces to a fast-growing global audience of photography NFT collectors."

The AP said as a not-for-profit news cooperative all proceeds from sales of any NFTs would go to funding its journalism.