Facebook Changes Policy (Again), Yanks Brutal Beheading Video That Went Viral

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 23 2013 10:02 AM

Facebook Changes Policy (Again), Yanks Brutal Beheading Video That Went Viral

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces Timeline on September 22, 2011 in San Francisco.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

UPDATE: Facebook has reversed course again, announcing that it has changed its mind about Monday's decision to allow the sharing of a video of a brutal decapitation of a woman than it had previously removed this spring.

In announcing Monday's (short-lived) decision, Facebook was drawing a distinction between posts that celebrate violence and those that condemn it. The social media company now says that nuance is still important and one that it will take into consideration when evaluating violent videos in the future, but that upon further review the video in question "improperly and irresponsibly glorifies violence" and therefore was yanked from the site.

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As All Things D explains, the new policy will temporarily appease child protection and online safety groups unhappy with Monday's decision to allow the video, but "it remains to be seen how well Facebook will handle being the arbiter of exactly what constitutes objectionable content too extreme for its network in the future."

Here's Facebook's full statement on the reversal:

“People turn to Facebook to share their experiences and to 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, acts of terrorism, and other violence. When people share this type of graphic content, it is often to condemn it. If it is being shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate violence, Facebook removes it.
As part of our effort to combat the glorification of violence on Facebook, we are 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.
Going forward, we ask that people who share graphic content for the purpose of condemning it do so in a responsible manner, carefully selecting their audience and warning them about the nature of the content so they can make an informed choice about it.”

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Original Post, Monday, Oct. 21: Facebook has lifted a temporary ban put in place in May and will allow users to post videos of beheadings on the site, the BBC reports. Facebook confirmed the change to the BBC, which reports that the social media company “now believed its users should be free to watch and condemn such videos.” The distinction that Facebook appears to be drawing is between posts that celebrate violence and those that condemn it.

A recent video post of a masked man killing a woman, reportedly recorded in Mexico, sparked outrage and brought to light Facebook’s policy change. Here’s what a Facebook spokeswoman had to say about the reversal (and the video in question):

"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," said a spokeswoman. "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."

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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