Facebook re-allows the posting of decapitation videos with 'WARNING'

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured

Facebook, image courtesy of ShutterstockVideo clips depicting beheadings have been allowed back onto Facebook.

Facebook temporarily banned decapitation clips in May after receiving complaints about the potential of long-term psychological damage from watching such horrific material.

According to the BBC, the company has now relaxed its stance.

Violent content, including beheadings, are now allowed, as long as the intent is to raise awareness rather than to celebrate violence.

Earlier this week, Facebook told news outlets that it was considering adding warnings to such content. Here's what it told the BBC:

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.

It didn't take long.

After receiving a slew of backlash since the news spread on Monday, Facebook moved quickly to implement such warnings that will appear before graphic videos.

The message reads:

WARNING!
This video contains extremely graphic content and may be upsetting.

Regardless, Facebook's decision to allow this content is still not sitting well. The BBC quoted one suicide prevention charity that condemned the move.

Dr Arthur Cassidy, a former psychologist who runs a branch of the Yellow Ribbon Program in Northern Ireland, told the BBC that such material can quickly leave scars:

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 colourful the material is, the more psychologically destructive it becomes.

The BBC reports that two of Facebook's official safety advisers have also criticized the decision.

The backlash to the violent video is widespread: it includes at least one Facebook advertiser, charities that support kidnapping victims and their families, and the South Australia Police Force.

For its part, the car-sharing firm Zipcar denounced the beheading video and Facebook's decision to publish the content.

The BBC quoted a statement Facebook put out on the matter:

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.

Facebook has since disabled Zipcar and other firms' ads from appearing on the page in question.

Facebook policy specifically prohibits "photos or videos that glorify violence or attack an individual or group."

The BBC was alerted to the change in policy when a reader pointed out that Facebook had refused to remove a page showing a clip of a masked man killing a woman, believed to have been filmed in Mexico.

The BBC reports that the video was posted last week under the title, Challenge: Anybody can watch this video?

I couldn't find the video on Facebook, but Gizmodo coverage features a still photo, apparently taken from the Facebook post, the caption for which implies that the beheading victim was killed for cheating on her husband.

A Facebook spokesperson explained to Gizmodo that the Boston Marathon bombing illustrates an instance wherein posting violent content serves the greater good:

There was a gentleman whose legs had been blown off. If we'd had a more conservative stance, that image would not have been allowed on the site.

What we want to do is give folks the right balance of being able to control what it is they're seeing. We're definitely aware that this is not the perfect policy. We're always trying to improve it.

I can sympathize with the difficulties Facebook faces in both supporting the free exchange of ideas and in avoiding publishing material that appeals to the most base examples of human curiosity (as Gizmodo points out, its photo of the beheading victim shows that it was shared almost 18,000 times).

But as many have pointed out, Facebook's policy has jarring contradictions.

Censored female, image courtesy of ShutterstockPosting violent content - be it photos depicting a terrorist attack victim or a murder - passes muster, whereas nudity is verboten, including images of females' breasts unless they depict an infant latched on and suckling.

Can we blame Facebook for its strange prudishness about the human breast?

I think not. As Facebook points out, it reviews photos almost exclusively based on Facebook members' complaints about them being shared on Facebook.

We are, evidently, complaining to Facebook about the wrong things.

UPDATE (23 October):

Presumably due to public demand, Facebook has now removed the video clip showing the woman being beheaded, saying it is also "strengthening the enforcement of our policies".

First, when we review content that is reported to us, we will take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video, and will remove content that celebrates violence.

Second, we will consider whether the person posting the content is sharing it responsibly, such as accompanying the video or image with a warning and sharing it with an age-appropriate audience.

Based on these enhanced standards, we have re-examined recent reports of graphic content and have concluded that this content improperly and irresponsibly glorifies violence. For this reason, we have removed it.

Image of Facebook and censored female courtesy of Shutterstock.

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10 Responses to Facebook re-allows the posting of decapitation videos with 'WARNING'

  1. Guest · 366 days ago

    Seems like Facebook has a short memory! Would the beheadings of Daniel Pearl or the American/British/Australian Soldiers in war be acceptable? If this decision was made years ago.. there would be mass outrage!! And WHO are they to determine what a 13-17 year old can view? Shame on them!!!

    • Anonymous · 210 days ago

      "And WHO are they to determine what a 13-17 year old can view?"

      They are the content host, they believe in freedom of speech and most likely believe it's the users job to monitor what they view online, not theirs. I agree with them.

  2. Mick A · 366 days ago

    Excellent idea Facebook! Just the type of publicity terrorism needs to help it succeed. Start listening to experts and particularly to the people who pay your ridiculous advertising fees.

  3. Jamie · 366 days ago

    The comment in the article about nudity is not accurate. What it comes down to is what people report and the reviewer's discretion. If people report breastfeeding images (as in a woman breastfeeding her baby or toddler) those images do often get removed. However, if someone happens to report images and pages of provocative/sexual/or almost pornographic images those images are often allowed to stay.

    I recently reported the image of a mother holding her baby (toddler?) because the baby was holding and had her/his mouth on a bong. I got a message a day later stating at the image was not removed. I wanted to say "Well why the hell not?!?" It seemed pretty cut and dry.

    Facebook stance on this stuff really just makes my skin crawl, especially slipper slopes like that. It leaves the doorway wide open to share many immoral things under the guise of awareness.

    I'm not on facebook to see beheadings or almost naked women in provocative clothing and poses, nor do I want my children to see those things!

    • Lisa Vaas · 366 days ago

      Thanks for the input, Jamie. Facebook policy explicitly says that photos of breastfeeding are acceptable, but what's written in the policy doesn't necessarily reflect what's carried out, judging by your experience.

  4. Ian Carter · 366 days ago

    Facebook is run by a bunch of selfish, inconsiderate morons. It is a great shame that so many people and businesses feel they need to make it part of their lifestyle. It is a blot on the social landscape.

  5. Andy · 366 days ago

    these image can and do scare people and should be totally band

  6. Peter Tomov · 366 days ago

    Disgusting! I am just waiting what the next idiotic thing they will allow. The other day I learned that kids will have access to FB. Some days I feel way better if I don't look at FB...

  7. Way to go Facebook, I totally agree with you. I condemn the use of marijuana, that’s why I have three plants growing in my back yard, so I can educate the people in my neighborhood about what it looks like in plant form, dried form and what it smells like when burned. Classes only cost $5.00 per person.

  8. LMAO ... it seems to that this fb platform is losing the plot of reality ...

    the portal was supposed to be to connect people - not to connect people with misery and other suicidal tendencies...

    I assume they're going to upload anything now to please its audience...

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.