Facebook Under Fire For Reversal Of Ban On Beheading Videos

The no-win situation that Facebook often finds itself in when it comes to censorship of content on the social network reared its ugly head again this week with the controversy over whether videos depicting beheading should be allowed or deleted.

The no-win situation that Facebook often finds itself in when it comes to censorship of content on the social network reared its ugly head again this week with the controversy over whether videos depicting beheading should be allowed or deleted.

BBC News reported Monday that Facebook reversed a decision it made in May to ban videos of decapitations and other types of extreme violence, with a spokeswoman for the social network telling BBC News:

Facebook has long been a place where people turn to share their experiences, particularly when they’re connected to controversial events on the ground, such as human-rights abuses, acts of terrorism, and other violent events.

People are sharing this video on Facebook to condemn it. If the video were being celebrated, or the actions in it encouraged, our approach would be different.

However, since some people object to graphic video of this nature, we are working to give people additional control over the content they see. This may include warning them in advance that the image they are about to see contains graphic content.

The social network immediately came under fire, with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron saying in a tweet, as reported by BBC News:

It’s irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without a warning. They must explain their actions to worried parents.

Cameron was far from the only opponent of Facebook’s policy reversal, with BBC News also sharing condemnations from:

Family Online Safety Institute CEO Stephen Balkam:

I would have expected a heads-up on this. I went to have a look at the video, and there’s no warning label, nor is there any condemnatory context. It’s just sort of up there, and the first image you are presented with is a woman’s head being held by a guy.

I’m very unhappy that these have gone back up and that they have gone up without any warning. First thing tomorrow morning, I intend to raise this with Facebook.

Childnet International CEO Will Gardner:

Such content should be taken down. There is a need to raise issues happening around the world, there is that argument, but some content is horrific. We would want to see steps to try and protect people from coming across such content. I’ll tell Facebook what our view is, absolutely.

U.K. Council for Child Internet Safety Board Member John Carr:

I have seen some of these videos — they are profoundly shocking. Facebook has taken leave of its senses. Those videos will fuel countless nightmares among the young and the sensitive.

Yellow Ribbon Program (Northern Island) Head Arthur Cassidy:

It only takes seconds of exposure to such graphic material to leave a permanent trace — particularly in a young person’s mind. The more graphic and colorful the material is, the more psychologically destructive it becomes.

Jeremie Zimmermann, co-founder of French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net:

It shows how much Facebook is in power to decide whatever will or will not be expressed through its network.

It plays a profoundly anti-democratic role when it makes any such choice, whatever the limits are and whatever the good reasons it uses to make the decision. Only a judicial authority should be able to restrict fundamental freedoms according to the rule of law.

The decision has also angered authorities and advertisers. The South Australia Police unsuccessfully attempted to convince Facebook to remove the video, and Director of Media and Public Engagement Shelaye Boothey told BBC News:

Facebook advised us that it reviewed the video and found, “It did not violate our community standard on graphic violence. Our team then spoke with a representative of Facebook about the decision, but they were advised that the video would remain in place as a platform for community debate.

Ultimately, this is a decision that Facebook is entitled to make. However, anyone concerned with the publishing of the video should continue to express their concerns through the appropriate Facebook channels.

And the social network took steps to ensure that ads did not appear adjacent to the videos in question after Facebook advertiser Zipcar expressed its concerns, telling BBC News in a statement:

We want you to know that we do not condone this type of abhorrent content being circulated on Facebook. We have expressed to Facebook in the past the critical need to block offensive content from appearing, and we will continue to engage with them on this important matter.

However, Facebook often finds itself on the opposite end of the debate, coming under fire for its removal of photos of women who have undergone mastectomies to battle breast cancer, its removal of photos of women breast-feeding, and, more recently, its removal of a photo of a statue in a public park outside of Kansas City, which depicts a nude woman taking a photo of her exposed breasts.

Readers: How should Facebook handle what often becomes a “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation with regard to censorship?

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.