Facebook Places Warning Labels Over Offensive, Graphic Content
Facebook has started placing warnings over videos posted to its site, that tell users when they are about to view graphic, violent, or offensive content. The site also prevents users, who have identified themselves as being under 18 years old, from seeing the graphic videos and images altogether.
The social media giant has long been criticized for allowing violent and graphic material that it deems to be of public interest or concern on its pages, although it bans content “shared for sadistic effect or to celebrate or glorify violence.”
Facebook first added warnings over videos depicting beheadings in Mexico in 2013 after U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called the social network “irresponsible” for allowing the graphic videos to remain on the site. The videos were later banned altogether.
However, it allows news reports and other documentary images depicting such types of murder to remain online.
The controversy sparked once again in August when images of human heads placed on spikes in Syria surfaced on the social network. This prompted the Family Online Safety Institute (Fosi) – a member of Facebook’s internal safety advisory board – to demand the site to place cover pages over graphic images that prevent people from seeing distressing content without warning.
The pressure from critics and its own internal safety advisors mounted after the company rolled out auto-play feature on the News Feed, which could automatically start playing graphic content without any adequate warning sign to the viewers.
Now Facebook has confirmed to the BBC that it started instituting the warning system in December. The warnings will be placed for graphic content that has been flagged as offensive or inappropriate by other users.
“When people share things on Facebook, we expect that they will share it responsibly, including choosing who will see that content,” says a Facebook spokesperson. “We also ask that people warn their audience about what they are about to see if it includes graphic violence.
“In instances when people report graphic content to us that should include warnings or is not appropriate for people under the age of 18, we may add a warning for adults and prevent young people from viewing the content.”
Among the first posts to be affected is the video footage of policeman Ahmed Merabet who was shot dead by a terrorist during last week’s Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, France.
Still, one psychologist Arthur Cassidy, who runs a branch of the Yellow Ribbon Program suicide-prevention charity, believes Facebook should implement an outright ban on all graphic videos and photos. He argues young Facebook users below 18 years old can easily get around the restrictions to this psychologically damaging material.
“We know if we say, ‘Do not do it,’ that they will still do it – they will want to look and view material, irrespective of how grotesque it is,” Cassidy noted. “And it has the potential to influence maladaptive behaviour in those who might have the potential to become aggressors themselves.”