World News

Facebook Controversy: Which Beheading Videos Are OK?

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, told VOA 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."



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."

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs