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Facebook sparked headlines this week after releasing a new policy on violent content. Last May, the site imposed a temporary ban on videos posted by users that depicted decapitation. The ban was in response to a storm of complaints after a graphic video of a woman being beheaded in Mexico was posted on the site. Last week, Facebook removed the ban on decapitation videos and instituted a new graphic content policy. The new policy takes a more relaxed stance on violent media by allowing such content to remain published on the website so long as the video complies with certain requirements.
The statement released by Facebook last Tuesday states that the company will be taking a more “holistic” approach to evaluating controversial violent media. The press release discusses that the company’s analysts will go through a review process that takes into account a variety of factors, as well as the context behind the violent post. Facebook will review flagged content by examining the intent behind the posting. The company plans to now take down posts that glorify or celebrate violent content, while allowing content to remain if the intent is to raise awareness or condemn violence. Lastly, the new policy states the company will evaluate whether the user posting the content has accompanied the content with an appropriate warning label.
This new policy has sparked concerns about the consequences of allowing any form of real-life violence to remain posted on the website. Although these videos may be accessible on other sites, Facebook’s sharing functions make the material available to those who may not wish to see it — and, indeed, make it hard to escape. The psychological effect on viewers, and youth in particular, is one of the top concerns. Some therefore argue that the better answer is to restrict all forms of graphic violence. Facebook already has a policy that entirely bans nudity, sexually suggestive content, hate speech, drug use, self-harm, and threats to public safety. One of Facebook’s rivals, Google+, has already adopted this approach by instituting a far more restrictive user conduct policy that bans all “depictions of graphic or gratuitous violence” on its network.
Others have applauded Facebook for facilitating free expression and allowing political discourse that can raise social awareness of important topics. And with Facebook facing competition from other social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube, the site is hoping to become a primary source of real-time news. Allowing gruesome content arguably furthers this goal.
Although Facebook has asked people to share graphical media in a “responsible manner,” the focus is now on how it will police that line. At what point is violence too graphic? Surely this is far from obvious. It will be interesting to see how the public’s reaction to the recent policy switch influences the way the company handles playing arbiter in the future when determining exactly what content is too extreme.
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