UPDATE No. 2: Facebook has again reversed its policies on graphic content. On Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET, the company posted a six-paragraph statement titled "An Update on Graphic Content on Facebook" on the Newsroom section of its site. "As part of our effort to combat the glorification of violence on Facebook," it reads, "we are strengthening the enforcement of our policies." The key part of the statement comes in the fifth paragraph: "Based on these enhanced standards, we have re-examined recent reports of graphic content and have concluded that this content improperly and irresponsibly glorifies violence. For this reason, we have removed it." Read the full statement here.
Here's something truly horrifying that you can apparently view on Facebook these days: "a clip of a masked man killing a woman, which is believed to have been filmed in Mexico," as the BBC describes it. Facebook had previously banned such graphic content, but the BBC says it was alerted to a change in policy "by a reader who said the firm was refusing to remove a page showing [the] clip."
What gives? Per the social network's statement to the BBC:
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. People are sharing this video on Facebook to condemn it. If the video were being celebrated, or the actions in it encouraged, our approach would be different… However, since some people object to graphic video of this nature, we are working to give people additional control over the content they see. This may include warning them in advance that the image they are about to see contains graphic content.
Read the full BCC report for other points of view -- including that of John Carr, a member of the board of the UK's Council on Child Internet Safety, who says that "Facebook has taken leave of its senses."
Meanwhile, the BBC notes that Facebook's ban on images of a "fully exposed breast" -- of the female variety -- remains in place. Although, actually, the site makes an exception in cases where the fully exposed breast in question is involved in a nutrition-related activity. Per a Facebook FAQ:
Does Facebook allow photos of mothers breastfeeding?
Yes. We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and we're glad to know that it's important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook. The vast majority of these photos are compliant with our policies.
Photos that show a fully exposed breast where the child is not actively engaged in nursing do violate the Facebook Terms. These policies are based on the same standards which apply to television and print media.
It's important to note that the photos we review are almost exclusively brought to our attention by other Facebook members who complain about them being shared on Facebook.
But, hey, what if people share photos or videos of a "fully exposed breast," sans nursing child, "to condemn it"? As, say, part of an anti-pornography crusade that neither celebrates nor encourages the display of naked female breasts?
UPDATE: U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has chimed in via Twitter:
It's irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without a warning. They must explain their actions to worried parents.— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) October 22, 2013
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.