News / USA

At Facebook, Beheading Videos Debated

FILE - Facebook employee walks past a sign at company headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
FILE - Facebook employee walks past a sign at company headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
VOA News
Facebook is caught in the middle of a controversy over free expression, trying to determine which videos of beheadings it should allow on its popular social media Internet site.

Facebook, with more than a billion users worldwide, banned beheading videos in May as psychologically damaging for many of its young viewers. But the U.S.-based company recently ended the prohibition, saying it was reversing its policy so that users could share news about world events, including terrorist attacks and human rights abuses.

But as soon as it had confirmed the policy switch, Facebook drew new criticism over a video showing the bloody decapitation of a woman believed to be caught up in Mexican drug violence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron joined the attacks against Facebook. He said the company was "irresponsible" for allowing the gory video to be posted, especially without a warning that some viewers might find it offensive.

By late Tuesday, Facebook pulled the video of the woman and sought to clarify its policy on posting violent images. It said that posting such videos is acceptable if they are of "public interest or concern," with users often condemning the perpetrators of the violence.

One U.S. social media expert, Fordham University professor Paul Levinson, said in a VOA interview that Facebook was certainly legally free to decide what videos can be posted on its site, including beheadings. But he questioned whether the public needs to see such graphic images in order to understand what happened in a specific circumstance.

"I don't think we need to see a picture of a beheading to know that it's something that should be condemned. But, that said, I think it's up to Facebook to decide. Nobody has to look at them. If people get some kind of sick thrill from looking at them, that's their business," said Levinson.

Facebook says it will continue to remove videos that are posted for "sadistic pleasure or to celebrate violence."

Facebook administrators often face conflicting pressure from various interest groups seeking to impose their own form of censorship. Women's rights groups want the company to ban misogynistic content, while others have criticized Facebook's ban on nudity. Religious groups have sought a prohibition on what they perceive as blasphemous content, while others have complained about Facebook's censorship of critical comments about various religions.  

Levinson said the express purpose of Facebook and other social media sites is "that you, the consumer, create the content." But he said even that freedom of speech has its limits.

"No one would think, and nobody would argue, that you should be able to put up on Facebook some kind of criminal plan to rob a bank with the exact details," he said.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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Comment Sorting
by: Mark1Way from: Charlotte
October 23, 2013 8:15 PM
Seriously, WTF? Facebook changes their mind about as much as they change their privacy policy. It's time we all leave facebook, google, and all the other advertising platforms for websites that actually respect our privacy, such as Ravetree, DuckDuckGo, and HushMail.

by: ananimous from: china
October 23, 2013 12:54 PM
Any way this wicked world is in the hands of the wicked one satan,moral wrong has become civil right,marriage has become b/w a man and a fellow not bother,your governments very soon will legalize marriage b/w men and dogs,beware my king jesus is coming soon,very soon.

by: Iwork@FB from: Menlo Park
October 23, 2013 12:53 PM
New research shows Facebook has lost a total of eleven million users, nine million in the US and two million in Britain. Researchers at the University of Vienna analyzed 600 users and found they quit for the following reasons:
Privacy concerns – 48.3 percent
General dissatisfaction – 13.5 percent
Shallow conversations – 12.6 percent
Fear of becoming addicted – 6 percent
Studies show the majority of users that quit the site were older males. Facebook, among other tech giants, have been repeatedly under scrutiny for their lack of user privacy, including turning over thousands of user’s info to the government. In August, it revealed Facebook submitted information on approximately 38,000 users in 74 countries during the first half of 2013.

Over half of the requests originated from inside of the United States. Tech giants are unable to reveal absolute numbers on how many requests they’ve submitted to because the government prohibits them from doing so. However, companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo have formed a unique alliance and are fighting back. The tech alliance is putting pressure on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court by filing motions asking to publicly disclose more details about secret national intelligence requests, instead of just releasing approximations.

“We believe there is more information that the public deserves to know, and that would help foster an informed debate about whether government security programs adequately balance privacy interests when attempting to keep the public safe,” said Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch.

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