Should beheadings be shown?

Beheading of John The Baptist
Beheading of John The Baptist

Adults using Facebook should be free to read and watch mostly what they want, CLA believes. Sometimes, gruesome material can help motivate people to campaign against what offends them.

Should beheadings be shown?

Q:  Facebook has started allowing decapitation videos back on its site, among other graphic content.

A:  Thank you for your email (from a journalist, seeking comment).

First, Civil Liberties Australia believes that adults should be free to read and watch what they want and that any censorship must be narrow and based on reasons other than the ‘yuck’ factor. The kind of violent content referred to in the relevant newspaper article is abhorrent, but could easily be classified as news.

Indeed if the similar footage was run by Amnesty International on their Facebook page showing the beheading of prisoners in Saudi Arabia, it could also be a form of political advocacy – condemning both the nature of the punishment and the people/Government who carried it out.

So, yes, it is a win for freedom of expression as it could allow people to highlight the cruel and barbaric nature of certain punishments or actions of violent governments. It can also serve as an important news source for countries where Government media restrictions mean such stories are silenced.

That said, Facebook has previously banned breastfeeding advice on Facebook pages because of “objectionable content”. Their reputation on free speech is very mixed. Will they be as tolerate of breasts as they are of beheadings? And who will police the requirement that violent material posted only serve the purpose of “condemning” that action? Will there be an appeal mechanism?

As for protecting children, Facebook is entitled to implement an age-appropriate content filter, provided it is upfront about it and allows mature teenagers to view more mature content.

Compared to most other online platforms, Facebook has one key advantage – it has a very good idea of who you are. It knows your gender (and not just from what box you select as your ‘sex’) and it knows your age. This means it is in a unique position to allow adults to view what they wish while allowing parents to restrict content viewable by their children. And, regardless of age, they can implement a warning system for possibly graphic or explicit content. YouTube already has this kind of system in place – CLA editorial team, vpt  ENDS 21 Oct 13

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