I think we can all agree that there's something a little off with Facebook when they decide to allow videos of people getting their heads sawed off, but will continue to ban consenting users for posting pictures of themselves in the nude. This, friends, is exactly what the state of Facebook is right now.
Facebook has lifted a ban on decapitation and gory videos that it enacted in May after the Family Online Safety Institute complained about these videos being so easily available on a social networking site that 75 percent of American teens use. But, even then, Facebook tried to defend the violent content before it put the ban into effect. In response to a specific video that showed a man using a knife to cut off the head of a woman who was tied up and placed on her knees, Facebook said, "While this video is shocking, our approach is designed to preserve people's rights to describe, depict and comment on the world in which we live." That video got more than 40,000 shares before being removed during the ban. Just a few days ago, the video made its way onto Facebook again under the guise, "Challenge: Anybody can watch this video?" with no signs of it being removed. Then BBC got confirmation that Facebook had lifted the ban:
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.
The more graphic and colourful the material is, the more psychologically destructive it becomes.
Having a warning notification before a gory video is better than nothing, but what the Family Online Safety Institute originally had a problem with still stands: because these videos are being directly uploading to Facebook, they will be shared and be more accessible to young people than anywhere else. Of course, these videos can be found outside of the social network, but it's different when a 13-year-old signs on to Facebook in the morning and the gruesome footage woman's death is one of the first things they see on their Newsfeed, as opposed to them going out and searching for the material on their own.
"It only takes seconds of exposure to such graphic material to leave a permanent trace—particularly in a young person's mind," said Dr. Arthur Cassidy, a former psychologist, told the BBC.
"The more graphic and colourful the material is, the more psychologically destructive it becomes."
UPDATE: Just 24 hours after lifting the ban, Facebook has just reinstated it, saying:
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.
Follow J. Duaine Hahn on Twitter @JasonDuaine