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Brit PM raps Facebook for allowing GORY beheading vids

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Britain's Prime Minister has slammed Facebook after the social network appeared to have lifted its ban on users posting graphic videos of beheadings.

David Cameron said on his Twitter account this morning that it was "irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without a warning. They must explain their actions to worried parents."

Arguably, the PM got some of his facts wrong by saying that the free content ad network itself had posted a vile vid - said to have been filmed in Mexico - that appeared to show a masked man killing a woman.

On Wednesday Facebook appeared to have relented to the pressure by pulling one beheading video from the free content ad network.

Facebook, like many of its rivals, prefers to be seen as a benign network that "processes" personal data so as to make money out of it from advertising.

Crucially, the Mark Zuckerberg-run company does not want to be viewed as a publisher, like other media outfits, because with that tag comes responsibility about the type of material that can be posted on such sites, including thorny issues such as libel.

Facebook's hands-off approach to editorial control extends to its User Operations team, which waits for reports from users to flood in about offensive content before moderators take any action.

In other words, it's extremely difficult to adequately police Facebook while the company continues to insist that it grants that responsibility solely to its users.

Facebook moderators based in Ireland, India and the US sift through the reports from users and make judgment calls about what content should be removed from the site based on guidelines set by the company.

It tells the Facebook "community" at large that a number of images, posts and videos are barred from the network. One such example is photos of drunk people with words written on their faces. Another one that regularly outrages the national press is "fully exposed breasts", which Facebook says it "aspires to allow" in instances where such a flash of flesh might involve a mother breastfeeding her child.

In the beheadings row that the PM has now waded into, Facebook defended the move by stating it was allowing users to post the vids where it was clearly shared to allow the community to condemn such murders. It added:

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.

The company explicitly says that "sharing any graphic content for sadistic pleasure is prohibited" on Facebook.

But it can only take action against such material after a user flags it up as breaking Facebook's standard rules of engagement with the site, which now claims 1.15 billion users worldwide.

The Register understands that Facebook is working on ways to combat complaints about the content it hosts by adding warnings to videos that contain beheadings and other sick clips.

It hopes that telling its users that the content they are about to view "may be upsetting" will be enough of a disclaimer to prevent future complaints from Cameron, who for once may actually have made a fair point about the "irresponsibility" of a big online corporation with a vast army of users.

As for the exact number of people Facebook has on its books to deal with the huge amount of reported content the moderators must sift through each day? Zuck's outfit declined to tell us. ®

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