Facebook U-turn after charities criticise decapitation videos

Facebook graphic Charities warn that watching the video clips could cause long-lasting psychological damage

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Facebook has said it will delete videos of people being decapitated which had been spread on its site.

"We will remove instances of these videos that are reported to us while we evaluate our policy and approach to this type of content," it said.

The news came less than two hours after the BBC revealed a member of Facebook's own safety advisory board had criticised its stance.

The social network had previously refused to ban the clips.

It had said people had a right to depict the "world in which we live".

But the US's Family Online Safety Institute (Fosi) said the violent nature of the material had "crossed a line".

"Personally and professionally I feel that Facebook has got this call wrong," said Stephen Balkam, the organisation's chief executive, ahead of the U-turn.

Charities in the UK had also called on the social network to reconsider its stance saying the material could cause long-term psychological damage.

Graphic violence

The warnings came after a one-minute long video was uploaded to the site last week showing a woman being beheaded by a masked man.

A voice heard on the footage suggests that it was filmed in Mexico.

A second video clip showing the execution of two men has also been shared on the network after being posted last Wednesday. The victims say they are drug smugglers for a Mexican cartel before being attacked with a chainsaw and knife.

Ryan L, a university student from Belfast, contacted the BBC after one of the clips spread around his friends' news feeds.

Start Quote

This is just wrong at every level”

End Quote John Carr UK Council for Child Internet Safety

He said he had flagged the material with Facebook as being inappropriate, but was sent the following reply.

"Thanks for your report. We reviewed the video you reported, but found it doesn't violate Facebook's Community Standard on graphic violence, which includes depicting harm to someone or something, threats to the public's safety, or theft and vandalism."

Facebook initially confirmed it had opted to leave such material online.

In reference to the video showing the woman's murder, it issued the following statement:

"People are sharing this video on Facebook to condemn it. Just as TV news programmes often show upsetting images of atrocities, people can share upsetting videos on Facebook to raise awareness of actions or causes.

"While this video is shocking, our approach is designed to preserve people's rights to describe, depict and comment on the world in which we live."

Safety advisers

For the past three years Facebook has consulted Fosi and four other organisations in North America and Europe to discuss its online safety policies.

Although the group was not scheduled to meet until September, Fosi's head said he planned to raise the issue during an "extraordinary" phone conference.

"Where it gets grey is: what is in the public interest? Is it in the public interest to know what is going on with the drug lords in Mexico?" asked Mr Balkam.

"But given that not only are teenagers accessing this, but consumer reports estimate that seven and a half million under-13s in the US are on Facebook, you've just got to consider: would this go out on daytime television news?

"I don't think it would, even with a warning saying this is something you may want to avoid. It crosses a line."

He added that one of the videos had been shared among his daughter's schoolmates via Facebook earlier this week.

Psychological damage

UK child safety campaigners had also condemned Facebook's policy.

"Facebook must have taken leave of their senses," said John Carr, who sits on the executive board of the UK government's Council on Child Internet Safety.

"I hate to think how an unsuspecting youngster might react if they saw it through their news feed or in any other way."

Decapitation videos can be accessed through sites found via search engines and other popular video clip sites.

However, Dr Arthur Cassidy - a former psychologist who runs a branch of the suicide prevention charity Yellow Ribbon - said Facebook's social nature made it particularly problematic.

He added that he had seen the videos in question and warned they could cause long-lasting psychological damage.

"We know from evidence that [watching] such material can influence self-esteem in a very negative way," he said.

"It can also cause flashbacks, nightmares and sleep disturbance. If that is prolonged it can transfer into many other negative effects in a child and adults as well such as anxiety-related disorders and panic attacks.

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook says it has more than one billion members

"The other problem is some people, in their innocence, might share this with friends to say how abhorrent it is, and we are concerned about the profound and uncontrollable impact this can have on an entire community."

Possible compromise

An online petition calling for Facebook to remove decapitation videos had attracted 289 "likes" at time of writing.

One person who supported the campaign wrote: "The video appeared twice on my news feed. I cannot imagine the impact it will have on a younger person. Facebook needs to create some kind of filter to block these images from appearing in the news feed."

Facebook confirmed that its current privacy tools allowed users to block posts by particular people, but not specific types of content.

Mr Balkam said that finding a way to block the spread of such clips to those who had not opted into receiving them was one idea that could be explored.

"If they are going to host this kind of graphic violence how then can we best prevent those videos getting into the hands of folks who really don't want to see these, including children?" he asked.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    Just shows everybody just what Facebook is really about.Its all about a few people making a lot of money and they dont really care how they do it.It could even give the people who run Facebook a turn on- violence being their deep down thing.They did not really want to remove this type of violence but had to bow to pressure to remove it.Shame on them for allowing it in Facebook from the beginning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    Facebook has to wait for public outrage before banning such repugnant videos.

    Another good reason for simply not engaging with Facebook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    What's all this about kids? I thought facebook didn't allow under 14's to have a facebook account? Plus, why are kids getting access to the web unsupervised? Whether its right or wrong for Facebook to allow these posts, I don't think that "kids using facebook unsupervised" is a good argument. Be better parents!

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    Slowly a sick agenda is occurring of making negative things more & more common place to the general public in many countries. This must be noticed & the public should not allow it, people should complain & demand certain limits. There needs to be limits on many things. People under 18 should be especially protected from exposure to negative things in media & on the internet etc such as murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    Just another reason why I will not use Facebook.
    It's morally corrupt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    I don't like bibles. There are depictions of stoning in it, which scare and shock me. Ban all bibles. Or remove the offending parts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    Amazing, I've tried to post several times, it appears that either the moderation queue is hugely long (in which case why are so many referred) or mine arent getting through. They disagree with the BBC and the posts that have made it through. I suspect that the BBC is only allowing comments directly supporting their view point past moderation - so much for democracy/debate/freedom of speech

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    Their previous stance on graphic violence was an absolute disgrace! That sort of stuff, should never be able to make it's way onto a Social Networking site and I don't care what anyone says about it. It is totally unacceptable. For all we know, the people could have been encouraged to commit such acts, just for their 5 minutes of fame? Well, they're sick enough!

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    but I would suggest actually communiating to someone via the mouth, its called talking. ////
    I have a friend who is a teacher in Egypt. During the troubles there, she was locked in her flat and kept in touch with the world, us her friends, through FB, She said it kept her sane, but it helped us, all her friends, as well knowing she was OK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    Facebook need to be more pro-active in their approach to what goes on their site. However, if people want to see this sort of thing posted on a daily basis just visit Live Leak. The true horrors of what humans are capable of are showcased. It makes me sick to my core if i'm honest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    Please, please don't make the same mistake as I did and buy the facebook computing chair.
    As soon as i log on to the site, the leg and arm restraints click into place, the electrodes attach and and i loose all control of my mouse clicking finger. Horrendous product that, but it made me give it a thumbs up when asked to rate it.
    Its now in the garden mowing the lawn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.


    You appear to be (probably deliberately) missing the point. My comments referred to the inconsistency in Facebook's policies, you are the one claiming the two are equally objectionable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    824.Robert Sinclair Shand
    As my comment was censored....
    It wasn't censored, it was probably removed because you broke a house rule. Stop being hysterical. It's like hurling racist abuse at a football match and then be surprised when you get banned from the stands, or talking in class when Sir told you not to. Get over it.

  • Comment number 844.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    58 Minutes ago
    An enormous number of children use FB. If somebody posts one of these video clips under a spurious title a child might innocently open it and witness something they will be affected by. Does anybody really want that?

    Put "photo" in Ebay search & see if you want young children to see what you find, do it in late evening time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    826 "Not many concerning topics like Syria or Boston or North Korea or Obamas Health Care Plan available so this thread will have to do."
    "take a real good look at itself & be totally ashamed if we are one of those who delight in doing wrong, doing crimes or [paying unhealthy attention to terrible things] such as human suffering"

    Hypocrisy ftw
    If that was your point though, good post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.

    The decapitations aren't quick (like a guillotine).Someone uses a butchers knife to saw the head off the victims.... pretty incompetently. Its intentionally incredibly horrific to cause terror. By allowing its distribution and actually defending the right to show this sort of stuff Facebook had turned itself into the propaganda wing of Al Qu'eda.

    Is that what its shareholder want?

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    Lots if people including children have been watching and enjoying executions since executions were first invented

  • rate this

    Comment number 839.

    37 Minutes ago
    Also wish FB would ban adverts that turn up uninvited.
    And how do you think FB is funded? If there were no ads, you'd need to pay to use it ... or do you expect all the FB programmers and staff to work for free? Careful what you wish for.

  • Comment number 838.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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