Face-off with Facebook: a stand for ‘community standards’

Facebook1Extreme graphic violence – acceptable. Nudity – banned. Is this how you would expect Facebook to interpret its own Community Standards?

My Facebook wall recently contained a video which had been shared by one of my friends. “This is amazing!” my friend proclaimed and before I had even decided to watch it or not, the auto-play settings on my phone made the choice for me, and the video began. The opening scene shows an execution. This is followed by a brief moment of animal cruelty and then scene-upon-scene of violent deaths, blood-splattered corpses and trigger-happy shoot-outs. All this is played along to a music track happily entitled Motherf**ker.  I felt strongly that this video would be breaching Facebook’s rules given it’s graphic content. I admit that I had never read Facebook’s rules carefully but I was sure that my reporting of the video would have it immediately removed. I was also partly expecting Facebook to be grateful to me for bringing this video to their attention. After all, by sharing a video it can automatically appear on the walls of unsuspecting Facebook friends. Much to my surprise, Facebook rejected my report saying that the video did not contravene its community standards. I was gobsmacked. How could more than 4 minutes of gratuitous graphic violence be considered acceptable by Facebook and thus available to anyone, including the youngest members, of their community?

My concerns are as follows:

  • There was no warning that the video depicted graphic violence (this is a requirement according to Facebook’s Community Standards)
  • You are either forced to watch the video (or at the least the opening violent few seconds) or are lulled into watching it by a misleading video thumbnail:Community Standards man confused
    • As stated above, I have ‘auto play’ set-up by default on my device so when I’m connected to Wi-Fi, videos on my Facebook wall play automatically. Even if I decided to scroll past the video I still would have seen the opening execution.
    • If I did not have auto-play set-up the user is presented with a thumbnail that in no way reflects the video content. I would argue that the thumbnail chosen by the video uploader was carefully selected.  The attractive bikini-clad ladies would certainly entice some users to press play in the hope of seeing more.
  • The video can be shared and, once shared, appears on friends walls. Given that the minimum age for joining Facebook is 13 (and assuming everyone has given their correct age) this makes this graphic video available to an under-age audience. I’m sure that there are also older Facebook members who would find the content offensive.
  • The subsequent response from Facebook, once I had reported the video, was considered final. I had no option to appeal, provide more information or ask for the opinions of others. I’d love to have had the opportunity to ask why isn’t the video considered offensive? Surely seeing someone have their brains blown out is not an everyday nor pleasant occurrence for members of the Facebook team? I certainly hope not.

So why has Facebook rejected my ‘report’ of the video? I’m not sure. According the Facebook Community Standards:

“We remove graphic images when they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence…We also ask that people warn their audience about what they are about to see if it includes graphic violence.”

Perhaps I’m misinterpreting the phrase ‘graphic images’ but there is clearly graphic violence involved in the video. Given that the video is shot in a mock-gaming style it perhaps even glorifies violence given that the aim of a game is to score points, shoot the baddies, collect the trophy etc… The way I read this standard is that the video breaches it.

Two other Facebook incidents have been brought to my attention which also seem to have caused problems for Facebook:

  • Facebook backtracks after initially refusing to remove video of newborn baby being thrown around. An article from The Telegraph dated 5 June 2015.
  • Facebook refuses to remove video of kitten being doused in petrol and set on fire ‘because it doesn’t breach any rules’. An article from the Daily Mail dated 8 September 2014. This article also includes some intriguing other examples of where Facebook has removed inappropriate content:
    • A picture of a former soldiers leg stump. Apparently Facebook considered this “offensive”.
    • A picture, taken by a mother (and professional photographer), of her 2-year old child with the rear of her swimming costume being pulled down by another small child. The slightly exposed bottom being Facebook’s point of concern here.

Facebook thumbs down to community standardsI appreciate that Facebook has got a huge and difficult task in policing all of the content on its massive social media network. However, I’m still confused as to why a picture of a 2 year old would get pulled from its site, but a 4 minute video of scene-after-scene of gory violence does not. As an e-learning educator I am constantly asked how I can prevent students from watching videos on YouTube during the school day. I’ve always felt that this was a nonsensical question and my response is simple – if the classroom content is interesting, inspiring and relevant then the student will not need to look for skate-boarding cats on YouTube. The problem, it seems, is not the student looking for inappropriate content; rather the inappropriate content being handed to them on a plate, via their Facebook wall.

Wake up, Facebook! You can’t continue to turn a blind eye to some of the content that is on your pages. Not everyone finds scenes of knives being used to slice someone open, or a suitcase being used to break someones neck, enjoyable footage to watch. In fact, I suspect most people don’t enjoy seeing this. Your community standards are not rigorous or clear and, as demonstrated, open to interpretation.  Unless changes are made, other inappropriate and extreme graphic content will appear on your pages. Are you happy to explain, to the parents of a 13 year-old, why you have allowed their son/daughter to watch such distasteful and disturbing content? Your flimsy community standards don’t wash with me and it won’t wash with them.

So, if you’ve read this far and you’ve not seen the video which I reported, here is a link to its Facebook page. If Facebook won’t do it, I will:- Warning, the video contains graphic violent content.

If you’ve got any thoughts about Facebook’s Community Standards or have experienced inappropriate content being sent to you, please share your thoughts below.


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