Facebook takes heat for lifting ban on violent videos, including beheadings

Facebook has sparked outrage with a controversial decision to lift a ban on violent videos, including beheadings.

A temporary ban on graphic content was imposed in May following complaints about videos which depicted people being decapitated, CNN reports. Facebook removed the reported videos and said it was reviewing its policy on this type of graphic content.

Now the company has relaxed its stance. It will allow violent content such as beheadings to be published, provided the intent is to raise awareness rather than celebrate violence, CNN reports.

A few groups have since condemned the social network for potentially exposing users to the violent content.

Facebook's controversial decision -- which has drawn criticism from British Prime Minister David Cameron -- illustrates the difficulty of setting a universal standard across the social network used by 1 billion people.

Denver mother Liz Martinez was stunned by the news that Facebook would allow videos of beheadings.

"I can't believe it. I really can't. It just seems like there are no standards," Martinez told 7NEWS, adding that she will have to pay even closer attention to her stepson’s Web surfing.

 "TV shows, movies, have ratings. But Facebook, there's no rating guide to go by it.  And so you're really opened up to a lot of things [and] you have to have those hard parent conversations with your kids,"  Martinez said.           

While a Facebook user can block specific people from posting to their feed, computers experts point out that Facebook is still a free for all.

"It's going to be a losing battle. There's so much out there that will just get posted over time," said Steve Fox, an analyst with Security Pursuit in Louisville, Colo.

Facing sharp criticism, Facebook Inc. announced Tuesday it was working on new ways to keep users from stumbling across gruesome content on its website following the outcry over the discovery of beheading videos there.

A Facebook statement clarified that violent videos were only allowed if they were presented as news or held up as atrocities to be condemned.

"If they were being celebrated, or the actions in them encouraged, our approach would be different," the company said in a statement. "However, since some people object to graphic video of this nature, we are working to give people additional control over the content they see. This may include warning them in advance that the image they are about to see contains graphic content."

Cameron, whose right-leaning government has unveiled several initiatives to censor objectionable content online, criticized the decision on Tuesday.

 "It's irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without a warning," Cameron tweeted. "They must explain their actions to worried parents."

Facebook's administrators face constant pressure from interest groups trying to impose their own forms of censorship or fighting to lift restrictions they see as oppressive.

Women's rights groups want the company to crack down on misogynistic content; others have ridiculed Facebook's ban on the depiction of female breasts. Some believers have urged the site to ban what they see as blasphemous content, while others decry what they claim is Facebook's censorship of pages critical of one religion or the other.

The new rule appears to provide a gateway for certain types of extreme content to dodge existing filters. Facebook prohibits nudity, drug use and pornography, and these restrictions will stay in force, CNN said.

Much of the outcry highlights contradictions in Facebook's policies, which allow extreme violence but may require images of breastfeeding mothers to be removed.

Violent news content poses particularly thorny questions for a website that allows children as young as 13 to join. Should photos of heroic rescuers working during the Boston marathon bombings be banned because some people object to the sight of gore? While images of torture and abuse helped fuel the rage of the Arab pro-democracy demonstrators, should they have been banned for being too bloody?

One free speech group said the fact that content is hard to watch didn't mean it should be hidden.

"Films about beheadings may be deeply upsetting and offensive, but they do expose the reality of violent acts that are taking place in the world today," said Sean Gallagher of the London-based Index on Censorship. "When trying to draw a line about what should or shouldn't be allowed, it's important to look at context, not just content."

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