Facebook executives can’t make up their mind about a controversial video that shows a woman’s decapitation.
Facebook originally removed the video from the social network earlier this year. The video resurfaced this week, and the company pushed back against complaints for 24 hours, arguing that it gave users a chance to disapprove of violence. “People are sharing this video on Facebook to condemn it,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in a widely circulated statement. “If the video were being celebrated, or the actions in it encouraged, our approach would be different.” (Facebook’s Terms of Service ban “excessive violence” and direct attacks against individuals or groups, along with nudity and sexually suggestive content.)
But on Oct. 22, Facebook reversed course again and decided to re-ban the offending video. “We have re-examined recent reports of graphic content and have concluded that this content improperly and irresponsibly glorifies violence,” the company wrote in a fresh statement. “For this reason, we have removed it.” Going forward, Facebook plans on more thoroughly reviewing violent content, including how said content is shared with a broader audience; as many commentators have pointed out, Facebook users as young as 13 could potentially see graphic content.
“Going forward, we ask that people who share graphic content for the purpose of condemning it do so in a responsible manner,” the statement continued, “carefully selecting their audience and warning them about the nature of the content so they can make an informed choice about it.”
The fight over the video highlights a conundrum facing the social network at this point in its evolution. In order to keep its ad revenue up and Wall Street happy, Facebook needs to host as large an audience as possible, which means opening up the network to more teens (in addition to encouraging people from all walks of life to sign up). Much of that audience will protest if exposed to graphic content—but Facebook is also keenly aware that perceptions of censorship can become just as damaging. If that wasn’t tricky enough, companies aren’t big fans of their ads running beside decapitations and other messiness.
Chances are good that the incident will fade in peoples’ memories by this time next week, but Facebook’s flip-flopping suggests the company is still trying to figure out how to best deal with this sort of thing. The next time an incident like this occurs (and it will occur), the company may prove more decisive.
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