October 23, 2013

Beheading videos: Why we should boycott Facebook

Facebook, which allows anyone aged 13 and above to be a member, states in its terms and conditions that it will remove only photos or videos that 'glorify violence' (file picture)
A holding page flashed the following message: ‘Warning — Item VERY GRAPHIC — five men beheaded and severed heads shown as trophies (pictures) might contain content that is not suitable for all ages. By clicking on continue you confirm that you are 18 years and over.’


I had no intention of clicking ‘continue’. In barely 20 seconds, I had seen enough to convince me that such horrific footage is as plentiful and easy to find as reported. 

But before I could get out of the page, another icon popped up. It was a Facebook icon. It invited me to post the link to this horrifying video on my Facebook page. You see, that’s how easy it is.

If I had, at that moment, simply clicked once on a small, innocent-looking blue square marked with an ‘F’, I would have contributed to the horrific practice of posting beheadings by jihadists on the world’s leading social networking site, which counts millions of children among its users.

Instead, I closed the page I was looking at — even the warning about the beheadings was too much for me. 


But I shudder to think how quickly I came to the heart of darkness in cyberspace. I am shocked to discover how easy it is to propagate footage of murder to what could, in theory, be 500  million people — the estimated number of daily Facebook users.

With trembling fingers, I typed the two words ‘beheaded’ and ‘video’ into a search engine on my computer yesterday.

A second later, I was looking at a long list of websites, including one boasting footage of a horrible execution. 

I clicked on the link, my heart pounding. It took me to a page that featured several executions. 

Feeling sick, I clicked on the first one.

I dread to think, also, how easy it is for someone who wants to publicise the activities of jihadists to put such content on 
their Facebook page, thereby giving extremists the publicity they so hunger for. 

When I searched for the material on Facebook yesterday, I couldn’t find it. 

Facebook stands to benefit whichever way this row plays out

The gruesome link, however, is still live on the internet and could, in theory, be put on Facebook at any time because the company refuses to carry on banning such content.

Facebook had introduced a temporary ban on footage of beheadings in May, following complaints that such terrible videos could cause long-term psychological damage.

But yesterday, provoking a storm of protest, the U.S. firm said it now believed its users should be free to ‘watch and condemn’ such atrocities.

Facebook, which allows anyone aged 13 and above to be a member, states in its terms and conditions that it will remove only photos or videos that ‘glorify violence’.

That is a clever get-out because, of course, some of the comments beneath any depiction of a beheading are bound to include people voicing revulsion.

I suspect Facebook executives know very well that whatever the rights and wrongs of their decision to allow footage of beheadings, the result is yet more publicity for the website.

Facebook argues that it is 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.’ 

Last night, presumably in response to criticism, it began introducing warning messages.

Still, let’s be clear: Facebook stands to benefit whichever way this row plays out. 

It stands to benefit from gory pictures and videos being posted, and it stands to benefit from the row about gory pictures and videos being posted. Because any fuss creates traffic.

And what does traffic make? That’s right, money.

Facebook is a corporation as rich as a country. The site is valued at £66 billion. It raked in billions of dollars — $3.7 billion (£2.4 billion) last year — from advertisers who pay to take out space on the site. 

The same advertisers can target individual users with tailor-made advertisements for products they know they might like because of their Facebook profiles; in which they may, for example, declare a love of the theatre, a fondness for a particular type of fast food or admiration for a pop group. 

And the more people there are on Facebook, the more its advertisers will pay.


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