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Burning Dogs, Exposed Breasts and Yoga Babies Vs Facebook Censorship

Say the words 'Facebook' and 'Censorship' and chances are that nothing particularly positive will follow. Repeated attempts by Zuckerberg and his team to tidy up the website or make it in any way more universally appropriate have seemingly brought them nothing but trouble. Double standards, political controversy and even sexism have been among the accusations levied at the blue kingdom as a result of more stringent censorship.

In the past few days an interesting disparity has surfaced regarding two very different but similarly abhorrent videos. The first involves a woman dunking a very young baby in a bucket of water before flinging the screaming child around her head, often dangling it by the limbs. The second sees a woman brutalising a dog with a blowtorch, with the dog in question hog-tied so that it can't get away, towards the end of the video the (grinning) woman seems to claim that the dog has died. Facebook initially flatly refused to take down either video, despite numerous vitriolic complaints. They've since taken the 'Baby Yoga' video down, but the dog attack remains active.

Now, the claim being made by them is that if disturbing, controversial news footage from the Arab spring, the Jasmine revolution and other sources can be posted in the name of educating people about some of the awful things going on across our troubled planet, then this kind of thing can be too. Putting aside the fact that the real problem here is not Facebook, but that somewhere out there in the world at least two people exist who respectively think it's acceptable to burn a dog to death and fling a baby around like a rag doll, this does draw into sharp question just exactly how it should be decided which offensive material is useful and which is just plain nasty.

For my money, the issue with both of these videos is not what they depict so much, but rather what sources they have emanated from. In both cases the videos were posted by individuals who saw no issue with the footage in any way, shape or form. That's a problem. Footage of animal abuse in a news context (preferably with a 'disturbing content' warning of some sort) is fine but when the poster is basically promoting the act, measures need to be taken. Really and truly, if it were possible, all images and videos should be vetted by moderators before they get anywhere near the site and anything with the potential to cause problems should firstly come with a warning and secondly come with approval from the poster that they had no role in any illegal activity that might be shown.

Of course, sometimes misinterpretation can be an issue and social media is a fervent breeding ground for violently jerking knees. A while back I saw an image floating around of a man appearing to force-feed vodka to a puppy. This sparked an online witch-hunt to find and/or skin the man responsible, but it turned out that the image, while tasteless, was staged. Not that this information ever got back to the people howling for his blood. The possibility of images or footage being fake always has to be taken into account, but again it's very difficult to prove what's real and what isn't.

Generally speaking though, Facebook seem to have been more concerned with a whole different kind of 'offensive' material in recent months: bewbs. Numerous images of nude people have been taken down by the site of late and often a storm of outrage has not been far behind, particularly in cases involving breastfeeding and naked babies/children. In one of the most absurd cases, an image of Gustav Courbet's 1886 painting 'The Origin of the World' (which depicts an exposed vagina) was taken down and the teacher who posted it had his account suspended. Similarly, when author Éloïse Bouton posted the cover of her new book (which features her topless, with her breasts partially covered by the title text) it was swiftly removed, having been marked as pornographic material.

It seems to me that all of these issues could be rectified with a 'may be inappropriate' tag that hides the image/video until the given user switches it off. Fair enough that the site wanted to take measures against pornographic material but tarring all nudity with the same brush is a woefully misjudged way of dealing with it, Facebook is supposed to be for everyone, breastfeeding mothers, naturists and other naked people included. More to the point, a person posting a video of themselves hurting an animal is a far more damaging form of promotion than an errant clip from some random porn film.

Almost any time a disturbing video surfaces online or on television, the question of whether it was right to publish it flares up, from the murder of Lee Rigby to Saddam Hussein's execution. If Facebook wants to be taken seriously as a source of news as much as it is as a social platform, it needs to make the distinction between what is being posted informatively and what is just for its own sake.

Once again, the fact remains that it's the actions depicted in the videos that we should be focusing on, not the videos themselves, but Facebook has a user-base of 13 and older and whether they like it or not that labours them with a responsibility to make sure that disturbing behaviour, particularly that which is open to mimicry is tagged as such, even if it might be fake, otherwise there's nothing to stop other people from copying it and then Facebook really will be squarely to blame. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Burning Dogs, Exposed Breasts and Yoga Babies Vs Facebook Censorship Reviewed by Unknown on Tuesday, June 09, 2015 Rating: 5

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