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Violent Videos Need Self-Censorship, Expert Says

FILE - This photo shows a view inside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook announced Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, it was working on new ways to keep users from stumbling across gruesome content on its website following an outcry over the discovery of beheading videos there. (AP Photo)
Facebook’s recent policy indecision over the posting of extremely violent videos has again exposed the larger debate over internet censorship versus free speech.

One media strategist contends the best solution for establishing internet standards lies in self-censorship.

Susan Reynolds, whose Carmen Media consults with international businesses on social media strategy and marketing, says it’s up to each of us to help establish settings and determine what we want to see.

“When I think about the controversy, it reminds me that Facebook has become a community gathering place. And that brings up the whole issue of freedom -- the freedom to gather, the freedom of speech, freedom from censorship -- all of these things that Facebook is now facing having to make decisions about,” said Reynolds in an interview with the VOA news program International Edition.

The controversy has caused Facebook to waffle on its own policies and desire to become an internet censor.

The debate was sparked by a video that appeared on Facebook back in May, showing a masked man beheading a woman. When the video went viral, Facebook reacted to complaints by banning it and other beheading videos, calling them “psychologically damaging for young viewers.”

After re-consideration, Facebook overturned a general ban on beheading videos, saying future decisions about the posting of potentially objectionable material would be made on a case-by-case basis.

Reynolds says Facebook would like to get out of the censorship business, and leave responsibility for user-generated content to the user.

For the first time, Reynolds says she recently alerted Facebook to a photo she found objectionable.

“It was a picture of someone being tortured in the Middle East. Personally, I thought it was probably not a real depiction, a real photo, but perhaps something edited with Photoshop. And I didn’t think it belongs in our newsfeed, especially if it’s false. So I reported it,” said Reynolds.

What about those who won’t censor themselves or hold different values than us? Would there be value in establishing a content ratings system akin to that found in the movie business?

“Who would then be in charge of determining those ratings?,” said Reynolds. “This is not a top-down content provider. This is user generated content.”

Reynolds concedes the process would be very difficult to manage and police.