The Associated Press has withdrawn plans to sell a video “of migrants drifting in an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean” as an NFT after facing a backlash online.

The news outlet’s Thursday tweet advertising the clip, which came as Russia’s invasion raised fears of widespread displacement of Ukrainians, provoked accusations that the AP was seeking to profit off of suffering.

“The Associated Press has deleted a tweet advertising an NFT that sure looked a whole lot like an attempt to make money off the plight of desperate migrants,” wrote the behavioral scientist Caroline Orr Bueno on Twitter.

“This is so far beyond the bounds of appropriate,” wrote John Stanton, editor of the New Orleans news outlet Gambit.

“How did this get all the way to execute without a single journo saying something,” asked another journalist, SI Rosenbaum.

The organization has deleted the tweet and canceled the planned sale. “This was a poor choice of imagery for an NFT. It has not and will not be put up for auction. The tweet promoting it was also deleted,” said Lauren Easton, the global director of media relations and corporate communications at the Associated Press.

“AP’s NFT marketplace is a very early 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.”

The organization had said in the post that the video would be available the next day through its new marketplace selling NFTs – digital collectibles associated with code that marks them as unique. In a press release last month, the AP announced the online marketplace as a spot where users can “purchase the news agency’s award-winning contemporary and historic photojournalism”, including images of “space, climate [and] war”.

“For 175 years AP’s journalists have recorded the world’s biggest stories, including through gripping and poignant images that continue to resonate today,” the press release says. Buyers will receive “a rich set of original metadata offering collectors awareness of the time, date, location, equipment and technical settings used for the shot”.

The NFTs are being released on a rolling basis. Currently available images range in price from $219 to $1,799. The proceeds will be returned to the AP’s non-profit newsroom, according to the press release.

The sale raises questions about how photojournalism is used beyond a news story. Photographers and news outlets often face thorny decisions about the use of images of human suffering. Dorothea Lange’s celebrated Migrant Mother image, for instance, was intended to illustrate its subject’s Depression-era struggle. But the woman, Florence Owens Thompson, later described feeling “exploited” by the portrait, which did nothing to aid her financially (and sold at auction in 2002 for $141,500).

NFTs are pushing that debate even further. With news organizations competing with Google and Facebook for advertising dollars, alternative streams of revenue are essential. The New York Times has sold copies of its articles as NFTs and sells some of its photography through an online store, as does the Guardian.

But the available images tend to focus on lighter topics, including the arts, music and cityscapes. The same is true of the other images in the AP’s NFT marketplace.





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