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 The video originally made headlines back in May upon first showing up on Facebook, and was immediately taken down following a series of complaints that viewers could suffer long-term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.
- In Lifting Violent-Video Ban, Facebook Seeks Its “Tahrir Square” Moment (allthingsd.com)
- Facebook reverses stance, removes beheading video (thestar.com)
- Facebook must decide: does it value free expression? (vator.tv)
- Facebook removes gruesome video, examining its policies (pcworld.com)