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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."

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