Am I the only one to see double standards in the tone and level of public responses to the results of Facebook’s review of its policy on graphic violence, including posting of decapitation videos? Yes, there’s been some condemnation and questioning of the new policy. But is there anything like the shitstorm that greeted the scandalmongering reports on ebook porn? I haven’t seen Facebook hastily take down its entire platform with apologetic press statements to explain its decision. And yet far more people log on to Facebook than ever walk in through the doors of a WHSmith store, and would be exposed to disturbing content far more immediately than if they did a search for an extreme porn novel on an ebook platform.
Facebook justifies its stance by stating that “graphic imagery is a regular component of current events,” yet posting of “graphic content for sadistic pleasure” is out of bounds. “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,” stated the company, appending reassurances that it was working on advance warning notices for graphic content – which, however, aren’t in place yet. For once, UK satirical site The Daily Mash’s spoof headline “Facebook to allow beheading videos if accompanied by inspirational quote” wasn’t far off the truth.
“It’s irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without a warning. They must explain their actions to worried parents, ” tweeted UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Note once again the stress on parents and families, used recently to justify item after item of intrusive and draconian censorship and screening legislation in the UK by a government anxious to buff up its pro-family credentials. And “irresponsible” is a rather mild term compared to the venom heaped on ebook platforms recently.
Plus, contextualization is fine, but a written condemnation is hardly going to have the immediate and visceral impact of an image or a video. And Facebook has obviously forgotten – if it ever learned – the lesson of J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, where newsreel images of violence and brutality, decontextualized, become the fodder for brutal transgressive fantasies with themes like “Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy” and “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” – engendering more atrocities. There’s little doubt that decapitation videos, however ringfenced with tut-tutting condemnation, will wind up as the focus for voyeuristic gawking sooner, not later.
And the culprit that Ballard fingers for such behavior is exactly the mass media that is busy pumping hysteria over ebook porn and the Facebook videos. Follow Ballard and Karl Kraus, and you’ll soon conclude that newspapers do more moral and social harm than any amount of porn or graphic violence.
And just as a reminder of how bogus this all gets, you could conceivably get banned on Facebook for showing a picture of a nursing mother with her baby. But a decapitation is okay, it seems. Well, I really hope that bare breasts are more of a component of most people’s lives than decapitations, but not on Facebook, it seems.
Editor’s note: Facebook has reversed its stance and removed the video. However, the main thrust of the article is still valid. No one proposed taking down the entire site over the video in question.