Home Social Justice Opinion: Facebook now decapitation-friendly

Opinion: Facebook now decapitation-friendly

6 min read

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron took to social media to condemn social media, saying “It’s irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without a warning. They must explain their actions to worried parents.” It is entirely possible that this was the way by which many Britons, and many Americans, learned that Facebook was now a beheading-friendly site.

But indeed, the Prime Minister was correct. Facebook, which banned beheading videos  as well as other graphically violent content in May, lifted the ban on such videos earlier this week. The move sparked an uproar from Facebook users and observers, echoing many of the same points as Prime Minister Cameron. Others pointed out that it seems conspicuous for Facebook to lift the decapitation ban while pictures and videos of breastfeeding mothers are often removed. Allowing depictions of very graphic – and very real – murders seems rather cavalier for a website that heavily regulates copyrighted music, offensive language, and the number of things you can “like” on someone’s wall in a short period of time (seriously, Facebook, it’s a fun prank and no one gets hurt.)

After the angry response from the public, Facebook walked back the decision slightly. Under the new guidelines, Facebook will regulate violent imagery by only allowing those videos which are being condemned by the users who post or share the content. This, too, seems like a contradictory policy, as Facebook would surely still remove child pornography, just for example, even if the user who posted it was making a statement about how bad child pornography is.

So why did Facebook suddenly decide to become decapitation-friendly? Most likely it was not based on any particularly nefarious motivation. At its core, the shift appears to be a poor business decision. Facebook claims that its reason for lifting the ban was to let users share news about world events, some of which may include violent content. So really, this is just another case of Facebook looking at what they are not and deciding to become that thing.

Facebook and Twitter are inching toward, if not already engaged in, a bitter rivalry over who will be the top dog of social media. Facebook is currently losing its hold on American teenagers while Twitter has become an indispensable resource for journalists, media outlets, advocacy organizations, and public officials like David Cameron.

When people think of sharing world news events, including graphic and violent content, they do so through Twitter. Increasingly, social media is measuring its relevancy not on connectivity but on the ability to break news. Facebook is likely feeling pressure to get in on the action.

Unfortunately for Facebook, being a place where hard and sometimes hard-to-watch news is broken and shared is evidently not what people like David Cameron and others expect from the website. Social media is a complicated business to be in, but providing customers with a product that they did not ask for and do not want from you just because someone else is selling it is never a good way to make a profit in any industry. Facebook needs to realize what it is, and try to be a better version of that, and stop trying to be better at being what it never was.

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