There's A Reasonable Debate To Be Had About Showing The James Foley Beheading Video, But Claiming Its Illegal To Watch Is Ridiculous

from the name-the-law dept

By now you’ve probably heard of the barbaric and tragic beheading of journalist James Foley by the extremist group ISIS. There’s an ongoing debate happening as many people sought to have the video (and screenshots) removed from the internet. Twitter and YouTube are actively removing such things, and even shutting down some accounts of people who are sharing those links. Mathew Ingram has a fantastic discussion about whether or not it’s the right thing for these companies to be removing those images and videos, and our own Tim Geigner has been weighing whether or not to write about the subject.

However, I wanted to do a quick post about this ridiculous claim from the Metropolitan police in London that it’s a criminal act merely to view the video. I have no interest in seeing the video, but I think it’s crazy that someone deciding they do want to see the video might face criminal charges over it.

The MPS Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) is investigating the contents of the video that was posted online in relation to the alleged murder of James Foley. We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under Terrorism legislation.

However, when reporters from Buzzfeed asked the UK government to elaborate, no one will say what law would actually be broken:

The Metropolitan police are unable to currently name the law that citizens could be arrested under for watching the video that depicts the beheading of photojournalist James Wright Foley, despite earlier releasing a statement that said any British nationals watching the video could be committing a criminal offence.

They did get a police spokesperson to say that they’re not intending to pursue people for merely watching the video, but that “viewing it could be used as evidence as part of a wider investigation.” That seems fairly questionable in many ways, even as we’re used to UK officials stretching anti-terrorism laws in dangerous ways.

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Comments on “There's A Reasonable Debate To Be Had About Showing The James Foley Beheading Video, But Claiming Its Illegal To Watch Is Ridiculous”

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Violynne (profile) says:

I’m usually the first person to stand up against censorship, but I’m siding with the companies on this one.

By distributing the video in any way, ISIS’ message gets across, and that’s something they want. By “ignoring” their “demand”, ISIS gets no free publicity.

I’m sure there are curious people out there, but that’s on them to correct their own stupidity of wanting to see the video. These are the same assholes who also block our driving while rubbernecking accident scenes.

The heinous act being written should be enough to know Foley dies needlessly for a cause that need not be pushed through viral sensation.

Sorry for the language, but I really hate these kinds of people. They just take a bad situation and make it worse.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“By distributing the video in any way, ISIS’ message gets across, and that’s something they want.”

And that’s the heart of the reasonable debate that can be had (and also not quite what this article was about). I agree that companies can take down the videos if they wish, and may even have a good argument for doing so (as you’ve articulated). I disagree that the government should force them to do so, however.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:


Gay porn is offensive to some people, lets censor that too because that heinous act being written about should be enough.

Same thing for sodomy porn, writing about such heinous acts should be enough, censor the videos!

While we are at it, lets censor curse words, writing “explicative” should be enough to describe such heinous speech!

Because you think it should not be seen suddenly its ok to censor it?

I want to sensor your comment, I think it is heinous.
Is that ok with you?

People are curious, there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t want to see it, you don’t want to see it, well no one is making us watch it so whats the issue?

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I kind of thought what you just said. There is material that is considered improper or something that actually sparks important debate over the subject. While I don’t see this here the Govt has no say on who keeps the video up and who watches. I disagree with the companies policy of disabling accounts that posted the video specially because there are plenty of gruesome videos like this that go “unpunished”. However they are in their right to remove the content based on their own terms of use yes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "I'm usually the first person to stand up against censorship..."

Sorry your knees buckled on this one.

No outside imposition of censorship should be tolerated, and it does not require one be a rubber-necking asshole to desire to view this sort of material.

Self-censorship, “a la” Mike’s “I have no interest in seeing the video,” may be acceptable, certainly perfectly, understandable, but imposing it from the outside with bizarre claims that violations are terroristic or may be used against you in some twisted fashion by the gov’t is Fascism.

Now that you’ve opened the door to censorship, where do you draw the line censorship should not cross? What about watching videos of a militarized, white police force as they employ tear, gas, bean bags, and rubber bullets against black protesters?

tomczerniawski (profile) says:

Re: Re: "I'm usually the first person to stand up against censorship..."

Personally, I think ISIS should get their message out. The world should see the Foley execution video, and hear ISIS’ message.

That message being “you should unite to kill us all as quickly as possible, with giant bombs and missiles, because we’re beheading-prone psychopaths and monsters.”

I’m cool with that message getting wide play.

Violynne (profile) says:

Re: Re: "I'm usually the first person to stand up against censorship..."

You have a valid defense, but I think there’s a mistake in translating what I’ve said and what’s being done.

I’m not saying the video shouldn’t be available. I’m saying I’m backing the decision by the companies who wish to make it unavailable.

For example, gay porn isn’t allowed on YouTube or Twitter, so I see no difference.

I think we start to draw a line in the sand when people start to say “Hey! Show me the video!”, which then works in the opposite direction of the argument you proposed.

Someone stated this really isn’t the point of the topic, and my apologies for derailing it, but the law “enforcement” is coming from the UK, so it doesn’t apply to me since I live in the US.

What person in the US would even care about this law?

Now, if our government tried to say the same thing, then I’d have an appropriate response of “duck off”.

casper says:

Re: Violynne

Since you offended me, I felt the need to reply.

1. You claim that downloading and watching the video supports ISIL in their cause, in getting their message across. Even without the video’s their message will get through: be affraid (think of 9/11; they will think of something to draw attention).

Besides, the global media are the real distributors of the ‘messages’ amongst western people (making money of these horrors and providing governments free propaganda to fuel the warmachine against it).
Radicals have their own sites/networks: they WILL distribute it amongst them.
And yet again; both bush and Obama use the same flawed laws along with these videos to get people behind an intervention. These video’s made people change their minds real quickly: WE MUST INTERVENE. A few months ago most Americans were tired of waging war in the middle east (so in fact they benefit our cause, making us hate them, leaving no room for: ‘It’ll all work out by itself’).

2. By watching these video’s – I’ve seen all three of them – I am not correcting my own stupidity. I am watching theirs in disbelief. Humans have a need to see something before they will believe it. It has been this way since the dawn of time (the world is flat!!). I want to form my own opinion. A picture, or video explains more than a thousand words. Because everyone interprets. I wanted the raw information, which is still tweaked and edited by ISIL. And I can honestly say that the impact of watching these video’s doesn’t even come close to reading about it. Remember those planes crashing into the towers?
I will never ever forget; forever seared into my mind. Just reading about it doesn’t have the same effect.

I have also watched north Koreans saying praise to their almighty leader. If you watch them you’re not sure wether they are scared or not and/or got pressured into saying they love the leader. The messages spoken in the ISIL video’s also present this tactic: the victims denounce America and they claim ISIL is the real victim, right before that same ISIL decapitates them.

They don’t actually show the beheading itself by the way… The screens fade to black after they start cutting throats and then fades in again, showing body and head displayed in a certain way. Let me again make it 100% clear that I am disgusted by these actions; they are appalling and a blemish on our humanity.

3. If there is an accident or something like that I will never block driveways, or cause traffic jams, etc. since I am driving at that time. I won’t even slow down: I’ll see it on the news. But this is of such a greater magnitude. And besides, by watching it I am harming no one: I am not the one radicalising or sharing this video. I won’t use it to beat up muslims at random in my own country (as they do with American and British people).
So how am I making this situation worse?

It also helps me in thanking god or whatever for my blessed life up till now.
Watching this also puts things in perspective: I have no legitimate reason to be unhappy with my own life. I will live it to the fullest (although I am using it now to correct short sightedness, quite useless probably. But there always might be that one who does get influenced…)

Anyway, your logic is flawed. So keep your offences to yourself: I dislike shallow people, who judge everyone, but aren’t able to look at their own actions.

In conclusion: Anyone who wants to watch this should be able to do so. It’s like saying Marilyn Manson causes things like Columbine (i.e. shooting your own classmates). The people who perpetrate these actions are already well on their way before ever even hearing of these songs or video’s. Their violence is caused by trauma, not music or video.
Guns don’t kill people: people kill people (though the presence of guns makes it harder to count to ten and hold your anger….).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Time for smart bullet deployment

That is a problem in and of itself. They are so determined to stop terrorism dead that everyone will be labelled a terrorist for just trying to protect or exercise their own rights… and when everyone becomes a terrorist, they will then be destroyed by those terrorists!

Michael (profile) says:

The Metropolitan police are unable to currently name the law that citizens could be arrested under for watching the video that depicts the beheading of photojournalist James Wright Foley, despite earlier releasing a statement that said any British nationals watching the video could be committing a criminal offence.

Later they added: “Don’t worry, we will find something to charge you with.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Metropolitan police are unable to currently name the law”

Good Heavens chaps, it’s tewwibly tewwibly obvious. It’s the Law against Bad Taste. Now get me another G&T, there’s a good chap.

“disseminating extremist material”

I suspect they’re looking at whether it falls under recruitment material or propaganda for a banned organization. They have a point, some troglodytes will possibly use this in recruitment drives.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s pretty simple to understand if look how the UK government treated David Miranda and then replace any mention of the police’s use of ‘terrorism’ and replace it with journalism.

The MPS Counter Journalism Command (SO15) is investigating the contents of the video that was posted online in relation to the alleged murder of James Foley. We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under Journalism legislation.

Claire Rand says:

keyword: "may"

Typical of plod over here, you ‘may’ indeed be breaking a law watching this, and given enough time and motivation they *will* find one – it will be a tenious link but it will be there given the state of laws over here.

Have had only a few encounters with plod, none of them filled me with *any* confidence in their competence. The phrase “its a bit of a grey area” cropped up, mostly meaning “it may well be illegal but go away as we won’t do anything about it”.

This is typical plod speak, basically hoping the problem will go away.

Personally, don’t ban such videos, show them, and show them over and over, point out the barbarity of them, find the usual crowd of talking heads who try to justify this stuff and ask them to explain the reasoning behind it.

Turn it round and use it against them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Just to be clear, this is the actual London police, and not the fake one-square-mile way-too-big-for-their-britches London police?”

Yes, it is the Metropolitan Police not the City of London Police.

The City of London Police are not actually fake, the City (“Square Mile”) itself accounts for 2% of UK GDP and they have been targets of terrorist attackes (see IRA, Baltic Exchange, Bishopsgate).

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No one heeded his warning because it didn’t apply. Do you even know what Orwell was trying to warn people about in 1984?

The first thing you need to understand to make any sense of 1984 is that George Orwell was a true-believing, dyed-in-the-wool Communist. He asserted for the record that “The War is inseparable from the Revolution,” or in other words that by the time World War II ended, a Communist revolution would have occurred within Great Britain as part of this. He believed this to be obvious and inevitable.

He’d seen how a few earlier experiments in Communism turned out going horribly wrong, particularly in Russia, and he didn’t want to see Britain go that way. Since a Communist revolution was inevitable, he wanted to make sure they ended up with a good one, so he wrote out (separately) the ideals of English Socialism, and the things that The People would have to do to make their revolution go off successfully and end up with a happy English Socialist government.

1984 was the cautionary tale of how Britain would end up if these principles were not followed. In the backstory, England ended up doing everything Orwell warned against, and they ended up in a system they called English Socialism, but which was a ghastly parody of Orwell’s ideals at every point.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the inevitable Communist revolution in Britain: they never had one. The problem is, most people don’t understand this context. 1984 ended up overshadowing everything else he ever wrote (with the possible exception of Animal Farm, which is another cautionary tale warning against making the exact same mistakes as 1984,) and especially in the USA, where his ideas about inevitable English Socialism never got much press in the first place, most people don’t understand what he was talking about. If you ask most people who have read 1984, they’ll tell you it was an anti-Communist tract!

And so for decades now, 1984 has been distorted completely out of context and used by a propaganda piece by corporate interests to scare people away from supporting much-needed regulations and reforms. Recent NSA scandals notwithstanding, Jennifer Government is still a far more realistic dystopia than 1984.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Nope, he remained a SOCIALIST not a communist, major difference! He absolutely despised the communism that Russia was at the time and the Fascism that was elsewhere (which are really just mirror images of each other). He despised anything that smacked of serfdom where the upper echelons had more power, rights, and freedoms than the plebs at the lower end of each society.

Jay (profile) says:

Let's get this straight...

I can watch a movie of a beheading and get an R rating and not have problems.

I can write about a beheading in a gory book about vampires and werewolves or while solving a murder mystery. Few issues there.

I can even play a game as a sniper and go for head shots. Depending on cartoony graphics or not, the most I have to be is 18.

But you’re telling me, that looking into a real life terrorist act is so graphic that it shouldn’t be viewable to the public to understand why people do this?

At least in media, you have a fairly reasonable explanation of why you kill the NPCs. This is just bullshit.

Unanimous Cow Herd says:

Visas lietas ir vienādi

We Americans are pretty desensitized, I admit. We see such things simulated in movies and video games frequently. HOWEVER,….

Unless you have some journalistic, scientific curiosity, or other important reason to watch such a thing, don’t! They WILL have an effect on any reasonably normal (I know, what’s normal?) person. IT WILL FUCK YOU UP IN THE HEAD!

Please continue today’s Techdirt Experience



I’ve watched it just like Cameron and Obama and it properly contextulises why this organisation is the epitome of evil. It was hardly comfortable viewing the real murder of a decent human being but sometimes I think we in our comfortable lives need a jolt out our complacency.Though I wont do it again or watch if it”s done to their other captives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Censorship does indeed suck, But I’m not sure If this guy has Children ,Nieces and Nephews , I’m not personally a think of the children kinda guy , but this is just out of empathy and compassion for the families and all that were close to him. Law need not apply to this situation but showing a bit of humanity would the respectful thing to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Im against censorship in any form. People, even children, need to able to see the world for what it really is, only then can a real desire to change it come about. Sorry if thats callous, but actually seeing has more impact than just reading about it. Companies ripping the video down for various reason are entirely in their rights, but doesn’t make me think any better of them though.

Rally Jones says:

Disagree watching the video in full makes people want to fight ISIS more

I disagree, people have to see the savagery of are enemies. We should not close are eyes to these murderers in ISIS. When I watched the video in its entirety I wanted to join are army and fight these savages. The reason the West is dying us because the rich politicians are TOO WEAK to show us the truth. The reality is, the internet has exposed the truth about western governments and enemies of free nations or the appearance of free nations. I am no baby sand wish to view these savages for who they are. The governments also want Politically correct citizens who will not see Muslims as savages. It is not about seeing Muslims as savages but seeing ISIS Asa savages. The west IS TOO PC TODAY and that is destroying free thought and ideas and that is why the UK is wrong. Scotland should become independent and leave the weak PC UK. England is no longer a bold or great nation. That is the truth and freedom no longer is the UK’s want anymore.

Duke (profile) says:

Sections 1-2 Terrorism Act 2006

There are a lot of terrorism-related offences in the UK. Also quite a few other offences that the police might think covers this. But I would go with ss1-2 Terrorism Act 2006; “Encouragement of terrorism” and “Dissemination of terrorist publications.” I don’t know if these offences have been tested in cases involving “non-terrorists” just downloading videos, but I imagine that won’t stop the police from arresting people if they want to.

Section 3 also includes a notice and takedown procedure for “unlawfully terrorism-related” material.

The UK could do with removing some of its terrorism laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, what next for the Orwellian UK?

Illegal to watch 1945 footage of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany?

Illegal to watch the video of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers?

Illegal to watch the suicide of Budd Dwyer?

What about illegal to watch the video of comedian Tommy Cooper dying of a heart attack on stage?

The death of this man is tragic, but all I see the UK doing is censoring history.

Duke (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The UK Government isn’t censoring the story part of this (and it is just the Met police claiming that watching the video is illegal; I’m not sure anyone should trust them to determine what the law is) – footage from this video was all over the front pages today, and it was the top story for most of the newspapers.

Although that could just be a case of one law for the newspapers, one law for everyone else…

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