Mike Isaac

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Facebook Reverses Stance — Again — On Violent Viral Video

Sometimes figuring out the fine line between free expression and overly objectionable content is harder than you’d think.

Just ask Facebook, which on Tuesday reversed a stance it took just 24 hours previously and removed from its network a violent video that had been circulating wildly. On Monday, the company had originally defended the video’s posting, considering it a type of free expression from users who were condemning the violent acts.

The move comes after a series of back-and-forth decisions on whether or not the act of posting the video — which depicts the brutal decapitation of a woman — should be considered support for, or an expression against, acts of violence. The video originally made headlines back in May upon first showing up on Facebook, and was immediately taken down following a series of complaints that viewers could suffer long-term psychological damage after watching the gruesome imagery.

The entire debacle speaks to a tension Facebook is currently in the midst of navigating. Like Twitter, Facebook wants to let users document events around the world, good or bad. The company wants to be seen as a place for free expression — a conduit for the masses to speak out against perceived injustices.

In leaving up the video, Facebook was making a statement, almost as if saying, “Yes, this is a terrible thing. But we support the right to display injustices on our network in order to fight against them.”

This particular video, it seems, wasn’t the right one on which to hang the company’s free expression flag. The extreme nature of the violence stirred up serious dissent among child protection and online safety groups, causing Facebook to double back on its original stance.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has had difficulty in navigating what is allowed on Facebook. The company took heat over the past few years for banning some instances of women breastfeeding on its network, while allowing others. Facebook maintains its terms of service are similar to television and print media in this regard.

Tuesday’s takedown may appease some. 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.

Below is the company’s statement in full, along with its position on future potentially objectionable content:

“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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