Boobs And Beheadings: Facebook Revisits Community Standards Enforcement

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News Posted: Thu, Oct 24 2013 11:25 AM
The problem is a simple one: There are images out there that should not be on Facebook, where they’re viewable by anyone aged 13 and up. However, Facebook has an extremely difficult job to do when it comes to deciding which and what type of images might fall into the “banned” category, and the issue has recently come into focus over a beheading video that got so much attention that British PM David Cameron even weighed in on it.

Facebook has now pulled the video, and although the social network isn’t actually changing any of its standards, it is revisiting how it enforces its guidelines. "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," reads an emailed statement Facebook sent to AFP.

David Cameron Facebook video

It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that Facebook would allow such deeply disturbing and graphic violence--especially as the company previously banned images of acts such as breastfeeding if a nursing mother’s nipple was exposed (a policy that appears to have been reversed)--but it’s important to take a more nuanced view of what’s going on here.

Yes, it’s a bit prudish to panic over the possibility that a youngster might see bare breasts on Facebook (although no one is suggesting that pornography should be allowed) while allowing videos of horrific violence, but there’s a big difference between glorifying violence and condemning it, which is a distinction that Facebook is clear to make. The company states in its community standards:

Facebook has long been a place where people turn to share their experiences and raise awareness about issues important to them. Sometimes, those experiences and issues involve graphic content that is of public interest or concern, such as human rights abuses or acts of terrorism. In many instances, when people share this type of content, it is to condemn it.

The company also told AFP, “If [graphic imagery] is being shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate violence, Facebook removes it.”

Facebook Community Standards

Without taking a stance either way on whether or not Facebook should have left the beheading video up (the company apparently did add warnings to the video so viewers would know that it was disturbing), the larger issue here is what, exactly, Facebook is being asked to censor. While many use Facebook to connect with pals, waste time, or stalk exes, some use the platform to spread awareness of serious issues, and sometimes violence and other disturbing imagery is part of that.

Facebook
Credit: AFP
Is it actually beneficial to rid Facebook of any reference to human rights abuses because the associated imagery is “yucky”? Or is that precisely why Facebook should allow it to persist? David Cameron is upset that a violent and disturbing video was viewable on Facebook, and rightly so, but should he have been more concerned with why a woman was beheaded by a masked man in the first place?
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ajm531 replied on Thu, Oct 24 2013 7:27 PM

I personally will not weigh in on the issue but I will say this: issues like this are in such a Grey area that it's literally impossible to appease to both sides. Ultimately Facebook will have to make the choice and deal with any negative or positive consequences.

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Dave_HH replied on Fri, Oct 25 2013 8:44 AM

It's a tough question but I'll weigh in. Heinous is heinous and disturbing, period. Kids are all over Facebook and there is no reason this content should be left exposed. There are other platforms that can speak to these atrocities with control and restraint so that people aren't scarred. It does no good to show evil without a very specific level of control. It lets evil have a wide open platform and that's just more evil. Facebook should be held accountable for sure. Mainstream media is held accountable for responsible journalism and Facebook is about as mainstream and broadcast as it gets these days.

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Dave_HH replied on Fri, Oct 25 2013 8:48 AM

And David Cameron would get my vote, at least on this topic, for speaking out. Good job.

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scolaner replied on Fri, Oct 25 2013 10:01 PM

I agree that the fact that kids can see this sort of thing without there being really any filters available is a problem, but to me that's a separate issue--one of parental controls. The central issue is to what extent Facebook wants to be a censor. The company seems to err on the side of staying out of the way, which I actually think is best.

So many media outlets are controlled by parent companies (remember this? http://hothardware.com/News/CNET-Given-The-Boot-as-CES-Product-Judge-CEA-Cites-Conflict-of-Interest-with-CBS-Parent-Company/). But anyone can have a voice on Facebook and on other social media outlets, and I think that's really important. I think it democratizes information in a very powerful way, and it should be protected.

And we should also be able to protect our kids from seeing that sort of raw, seriously disturbing imagery.

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