Perhaps like me, while you read all of our posts the past six months that had anything to do with Facebook, you missed the news that the social media site had instituted a policy specifically against sharing videos that featured human beings beheading other human beings. Granted, like for me, this may have fallen under your "I can't believe we need that, but okay" category, but indulge me for a moment as I ride the rollercoaster of oscilating views on the news that Facebook has recently rescinded this policy and will once again allow videos of beheadings to be shared, with only a few caveats.
The social network had introduced a temporary ban in May following complaints that the clips could cause long-term psychological damage. The US firm confirmed it now believed its users should be free to watch and condemn such videos. It added it was, however, considering adding warnings.
Reaction Stage 1: Emotional Outrage --
You evil Facebook bastards! How simple is it to understand that you shouldn't allow people to show decapa-frigging-tations. The very idea of large swaths of people watching that kind of thing is sickening. And to hell with your caveats; there is no discussion worth having about vile acts of violence and death beyond the complete rebuke of them. What good could this possibly serve?
"Facebook has long been a place where people turn to share their experiences, particularly when they're connected to controversial events on the ground, such as human rights abuses, acts of terrorism and other violent events," said a spokeswoman.
Reaction Stage 2: The Skeptical Deep Breath --
Okay, fine, that's a fair point. If social media sites are the water-cooler or social chamber of our time, then it makes sense that those discussions should be open to topics of controversey. After all, how do you discuss a beheading if you don't at least have the option to see what occurred. Still, this all sounds too close to people watching snuff films. Surely someone is going to have a problem with all this, right?
"It only takes seconds of exposure to such graphic material to leave a permanent trace - particularly in a young person's mind," said Dr Arthur Cassidy, a former psychologist who runs a branch of the Yellow Ribbon Program in Northern Ireland. "The more graphic and colourful the material is, the more psychologically destructive it becomes."
Reaction Stage 3: Think Of The Damned Children --
Facebook allows anyone aged 13 and above to be a member.
Screw the fair points. How the hell could this possibly be deemed responsible when Facebook allows newly-proclaimed teenagers to view this kind of material? Nobody is really in favor of teens watching people get their melons chopped off, are they? And is anyone really going to argue that there won't be some
damage to some
children if this kind of thing is allowed to propagate? What's supposed to keep kids from seeing this kind of violence?
The idea of Facebook issuing a blanket ban had, however, concerned some freedom-of-speech campaigners who had suggested it was the responsibility of parents - not the company - to protect children on the internet.
Reaction Stage 4: Oh, Yeah, The Stupid Parents --
Damn, I had forgotten about them. I guess it is
up to parents to police their children's internet use and any unwillingness to do so shouldn't stifle the free speech of others. It's just that, well, so many parents suck
at this part of their job. Still, that isn't the fault of people who are legitimately interested in these kinds of stories.
French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net said it was still concerned that Facebook was reserving the right to take down the videos if it took issue with the way they were presented.
Reaction Stage 5: Reluctant Admission That Horrible Things Are The Reason Free Expression Is Important --
"It shows how much Facebook is in power to decide whatever will or will not be expressed through its network," said the organisation's co-founder Jeremie Zimmermann. "It plays a profoundly anti-democratic role when it makes any such choice, whatever the limits are and whatever the good reasons it uses to make the decision. Only a judicial authority should be able to restrict fundamental freedoms according to the rule of law."
Yes, beheadings are terrible. As are violent attacks, terrorist attacks, bombings, war-crimes, and every other horrible action that we human beings commit against one another. But that is the reality of the world we live in. And if I'm confident about anything at all in this occasionally horrible world, it's that reacting to horror by placing your head in the sand doesn't work. There are those on this planet that believe in civil discourse, in peace, and in the possibility of harmony with our fellow human beings, and we deserve to know exactly how terrible the enemies of our cause are and to discuss their actions openly and honestly. A huge part of that means being able to see what we're dealing with. As I mentioned before, social media sites are our gathering places to discuss ideas, philosophies, and events. To stifle any part of that because the material at hand is uncomfortable to some would be a disservice. I don't even need to give examples of prior acts of violence that, thanks to their being on film, opened a larger number of people's eyes to important dangers than would have been otherwise.
In the end, I come back to the resting place that seems so familiar to me: more discussion, more access to information, more freedom of speech is always better in the end. Of course, now having ridden this roller coaster ride up and down the emotions, there is one other issue. How is it that beheadings are considered important to free speech, but breasts are such a problem
that even breastfeeding
is (at times) banned?
Where did your rollercoaster take you?
: Oh, and just as we post this, it comes out that Facebook has removed a beheading video
. The roller coaster ride begins again.