Commentary

Facebook Allows Videos of Beheading, But Not Breastfeeding

If anyone can explain this, please feel free to leave a comment enlightening me, because I just don’t get it: it seems Facebook has decided to allow users to post graphic videos of people being beheaded -- but still refuses to allow pictures or video containing nudity, including images of women breastfeeding.

I mean… what?

Facebook changed its policy on decapitation videos (the mere fact that this is a genre of online content is a clear sign that we’re circling the drain as a species) after banning them in May of this year because, according to BBC, the social network believes “its users should be free to watch and condemn such videos.”

The policy has been in the media spotlight in Britain following the gruesome beheading of a soldier by Islamist terrorists outside his barracks in May, but there are lots of decapitation videos from all over the world that wind up on Facebook: the latest bout of controversy was stirred up by a video from Mexico showing an alleged informer being beheaded by drug gangs, and there are certainly more where that came from.

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This is obviously an unusual and complex issue. But I will say that while I usually come down on the side of free speech, the argument is a bit thin here. For one thing, Facebook is abetting criminal activity: the whole point of posting videos like this is to terrorize and intimidate those who see them, for example in order to discourage them from going to the police. Put another way, the people who post the videos already know that pretty much everyone else condemns them -- that’s why they’re posting them. They’re not going to be surprised or persuaded by expressions of condemnation.

Meanwhile everyone else (the civilized majority) already knows that we all condemn this kind of violence, so what is accomplished by allowing them to remain online, aside from inducing feelings of visceral horror in someone unlucky enough to click on them without knowing what they depict? At most you are either allowing criminals to further their criminal enterprise, or -- for the few sick individuals out there who like what they see -- potentially planting the seeds for more violence.

The policy is especially bizarre when you consider that Facebook has banned any images that reveal a woman’s nipple, including breastfeeding mothers, along with pictures and video depicting people having sex, even when no nudity is shown, and people using the bathroom -- apparently including the stupid-classic “guy peeing from behind” shot. If nothing else, shouldn't we the viewers "be free to watch and condemn such videos" if we are horribly affronted by them?

Again, if you can make sense of this, I’d love to hear from you.

4 comments about "Facebook Allows Videos of Beheading, But Not Breastfeeding".
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  1. Daniel Soschin from Speaker & Blogger, October 22, 2013 at 4:45 p.m.

    Erik, great points. Their policy is fragmented and fails to address the real issues of decency, acceptable use, and protection of users.

  2. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, October 22, 2013 at 4:46 p.m.

    I think it is apples and oranges.
    One question is what lines should FB draw when it involves political speech, and the other is what line should FB draw for non-political speech that may offend someone else's sense of decency.

    Beheading videos are a form of political speech as are, say, the atrocities committed on children in Syria. If you can't show the horror of such acts, how do you make an impact? And no one (hopefully) watches a beheading video out of prurient interest.

    Breastfeeding videos, on the other hand, are about decency standards. Opening the door to breast feeding videos would inevitably lead to a bunch of porn stars creating "breast feeding" clips to build their followings. Facebook's decision makes some sense to me within this framework.

  3. Andrew Boer from MovableMedia, October 22, 2013 at 4:51 p.m.

    I guess a good test would be...would Facebook permit images that show, say, ritual female castration? If yes, than the policy is consistent to me -- it is permitted because it is political speech with nudity, but without a prurient component. If not, then the policy is indeed fragmented.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 1, 2013 at 12:55 p.m.

    It is not about free speech. Free speech guarantees that one is not arrested and punished for expressing an opinion by the government. FBeast is not supposed to be a government but it is supposing it is with more control over people's thoughts, attitudes and acts. Fbeast (not the only one but with a certain prevalence) has brought out the most narcissistic characteristics in people and encourages the worse part of humans. The more money it makes off of these human foibles, the worse they become. Ergo, beheadings, hangings and any other gut wrenching acts are profit sources, not first amendment rights. If you don't believe watching these acts will be reflective upon the population then you don't believe advertising and marketing works.

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