Facebook makes U-turn over decapitation video clip

Facebook A Facebook page that hosted a decapitation video now says it is unavailable

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Facebook has removed a video clip showing a woman's decapitation and issued new rules about what can be shared on its site.

The U-turn comes two days after it was revealed the firm had dropped a ban on clips showing extreme violence.

The BBC understands that Facebook did this in July after issuing new guidance to staff, but did not think the public would be interested to know.

The British prime minister has accused the firm of being "irresponsible".

Facebook's own safety advisers have also voiced concerns.

The US firm now says it will still allow some graphic content but will take a more comprehensive look at its context.

This time Facebook outlined its revised policy in a press release.

"First, when we review content that is reported to us, we will take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video, and will remove content that celebrates violence," it said.

A Facebook page that hosted a decapitation video now says it is unavailable

"Second, we will consider whether the person posting the content is sharing it responsibly, such as accompanying the video or image with a warning and sharing it with an age-appropriate audience.

"Based on these enhanced standards, we have re-examined recent reports of graphic content and have concluded that this content improperly and irresponsibly glorifies violence. For this reason, we have removed it."

At time of writing other decapitation videos could still be found on the site without warning messages.

'Community standard'

The announcement follows a series of flip-flops by the company.

On May 1, when questioned about death clips being shared on the site, the firm told the BBC that its users had the right to depict the "world in which we live".

However, less than two hours after the BBC published an interview with one of the firm's safety advisers - who raised concerns about the harm this could cause teenagers - it announced a change of tack.

"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 declared.

The company promised at the time to announce its decision when the review was completed.

But at the start of this week the BBC was contacted by one of the social network's members who had complained about a clip uploaded on 16 October, which the company was refusing to take down.

"The video shows a woman having her head cut off by a man in a mask," the user wrote.

Facebook warning The video was still accessible on Facebook on Tuesday, but covered by a warning notice

"She is alive when this happens. Looking at the comments a load of people have reported this to Facebook and had the same reply."

An Australian police force was among those who had complained. It said it had been told by Facebook's moderators that the video "did not violate our community standard on graphic violence".

When questioned on Monday, a spokeswoman for Facebook confirmed that the ban had indeed been dropped and that the company had introduced a new rule: such material could be posted and shared on the site so long as the original post did not celebrate or encourage the actions depicted.

This prompted David Cameron to tweet on Tuesday: "It's irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without a warning. They must explain their actions to worried parents."

Stephen Balkam, the chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute (Fosi) charity - who sits on the network's Safety Advisory Board - said he was "unhappy" at the move, which he had not been told about in advance.

Many of the site's users also questioned why it allowed such extreme footage but banned images and videos showing a woman's "fully exposed breast".

Facebook subsequently added an alert to the video, replacing the banner image with the words: "Warning! This video contains extremely graphic content and may be upsetting."

But last night it changed its policy again, and visitors to the page are now told: "This content is currently unavailable."

In response Mr Cameron tweeted: "I'm pleased Facebook has changed its approach on beheading videos. The test is now to ensure their policy is robust in protecting children."

Mr Balkam also welcomed the move.

"The Family Online Safety Institute is encouraged by the changes that Facebook announced today to the posting of graphic or disturbing material," he said in a statement.

"In order to protect young people in particular, it is imperative that Facebook - and all other social media sites - have in place a review process for this type of material and provide warnings where appropriate."

London-based Childnet International, another of Facebook's safety advisers, said it still wanted more information.

David Cameron tweet Prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed the fact that Facebook took the video off its site

"If they've taken it down I welcome that," said the charity's chief executive Will Gardner told the BBC.

"But I want to find out more and look into this further."

Age limits

Google's rival Google+ social network has more restrictive guidelines on graphic content: "Do not distribute depictions of graphic or gratuitous violence," it states.

There are videos on its YouTube service in which people discuss beheadings and provide links to explicit footage, but the firm has removed videos showing the act of murder from its own site.

"While YouTube's guidelines generally prohibit graphic or violent content, we make exceptions for material with documentary, or news value," a spokesman added.

"In cases where a video is not suitable for all viewers, we're careful to apply warnings and age-restrictions to safeguard people using our site."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    Those that publish such material are by virtue complicit in the act, UK law has specific laws to deal with this under terrorism or the glorification of a terrorist act.
    Terrorism is defined as Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public. Just report it and let the police deal with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    I think the reported facts are enough. I do not want to see pregnant women being targetted and shot by snipers in Syria either. I don't need to see the evidence, just for it to be verified. I REALLY WONDER WHAT SORT OF PERSON ACTUALLY WANTS TO SEE SUCH ACTS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    This is not about censorship, it is about common decency. Yes, you can make a choice whether to view this or not, but far too many will view it who shouldn't.

    I am not remotely squeamish, but I think we should draw a line where things like this are concerned.

    I don't need to see child porn to know it exists, I don't need to see executions in any shape or form to imagine the outcome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    We can all condemn this action from our safe lives in a democratic country.

    It is very convenient for us to ignore atrocities we are unaware of.

    Without social media, would the Syrian chemical arsenal be being destroyed now?

    From what I read into their statement, if a graphic video were posted to draw the world's attention to an atrocity, they would allow it, but the norm will be to block.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    I withdrew my account from Facebook. Should I have been an account holder still, the decision to keep gratuitous material, such as beheadings for goodness sake, I would have stopped my account. As it happens, Facebook is a load of old baloney anyway. Good riddance to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    Facebook can't have it both ways.

    If Facebook wants to emphasise freedom of expression and portraying the real world in all its ugliness, then Facebook needs to be for adults only, and there should be a separate product for children with much more moderation and control.

    Or if they want Facebook to be for both adults & children, then Facebook must have child-friendly limitations on content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    To argue that to not allow showing of these goes against personal freedom is nonsense.

    That's a bit like saying that people are free to do ANYTHING they want without repercussion, such as crime or murder...even true and correct freedom has to have some limits.

    The other side to freedom is people should feel safe that harm will not happen to them.

    It's clearly not normal to watch this content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    There is a huge difference as well between "freedom of speech" and showing violent psychopaths murder people. What planet do we live on where people think that censoring graphically violent crimes and murders is a "violation of their civil rights" Sick and twisted people watch this muck, and probably need locking up too. Rant over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    I wish Facebook would make up its mind - to censor or not to censor. It's meaningless to ban one video. Extremely gory images are as plentiful on the internet as porn sites. Kids are not put off by unenforceable age restrictions, so they'll find them anyway. Especially if they're told not to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    How do I close a Facebook account? there doesn't seem to be a way to close it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    I think its highly important to allow such vile actions to be seen by as many people as possible to show the harsh reality of religious brainwashing. Same goes for our own military, the government wants it sanitised and or hidden but unless we show the result of the wars we cause people won't be able to make an informed opinion of what our political leaders are sanctioning in our names.

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    "@424.Essex Serpent
    Terrorists should be given no airtime"

    I support this. End Party Political Broadcasts now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    I'm not monitoring my FB account and will boycott any advertiser on FB till they show some responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    Society has evolved in such a way that violent death is a tabu. Teenagers compete with each other to find the most gross thing on the internet and share it with each other. The two do not mix as psychological damage may occur if violent death is circulated in the same way as cat videos. Facebook have to deal with this, some information although free should not be as freely available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    Why would anyone really want to see someone beheaded?


  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    Facebook allow anything violent and call it ''freedom of speech'' But any images of women breast feeding that might show a nipple = instant ban, why ? because Facebook is based on stupid american bible belt morality - graphic violence ok, anything vaguely sexual or showing nudity - bad . A screwed up moral judgement from a morally screwed up nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    They will allow horrific images to be shown, yet if you post a photo of a baby breastfeeding without anything more than cleavage showing, the photo is removed for being offensive and your account is suspended!

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    @430. peterc - Surely you don't need to watch kiddie-porn to know it's happening. So why beheadings?

    I have more respect for the victims, I do not need to watch a video an evil maniac has made to glorify his actions. If you want to watch them, fine (although I question your morality). What I object to is FB deciding to force-feed them to me. And the images do damage to young minds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    Some suggest those hosting websites should not police them, that parents should be responsible for what kids see online. However, unless you remove computers, etc from homes and schools, don't allow your children to visit friends, or library's you can't control your child on facebook or the web. You accept children seeing inappropriate content or some level of censorship, but you have to chose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    The aim of these videos is not entertainment, it is to strike terror into the hearts of others by means of violence (terrorism by any other name). By allowing these videos to be posted on their website, Facebook are sanctifying and backing terrorism in its base form and therefore in my eyes need prosecuting like those who actually get caught planning terrorist activities.


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