I have a message for Facebook: snuff films aren’t “content.” Videos and streams of humans murdering other humans aren’t “content.” Any outlook that considers such videos “content” is morally bankrupt, and I believe it is rooted in a business mind-set that sees all of our lives as product to plunder.
The underlying events of this story are horrific, and I won’t go into detail. Earlier in April, a Cleveland man kidnapped a 74 year old man, murdered him, and posted a video of the murder on Facebook. The company removed the video, and offered the following statement:
This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook. We work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook, and are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety.
That’s when I first got angry about this, but there was another horrific event this week. In Thailand, a 20 year old man hanged his 11-month old daughter on a Facebook Live stream. Facebook issued a similar statement about the incident, saying:
This is an appalling incident and our hearts go out to the family of the victim. There is absolutely no place for content of this kind on Facebook and it has now been removed.
Snuff Films Are Not “Content”
There are plenty of ways Facebook could have addressed this issue. For instance, “Our platform will not be used by criminals to broadcast acts of violence.” There are many other ways to say what Facebook said. Instead, the company labeled these videos “content.”
By doing so they are effectively positioning it alongside memes, political rants, birthday videos, and the other bits of people’s lives that get posted every day. And by saying there is no place for that particular kind of “content” on Facebook, it implies there is a place for it somewhere else.
But these videos aren’t content. They’re horrific recordings of human tragedy. They’re the actions of sick individuals. They’re abominations. They are a lot of things, but what they are not is “content.”
The problem is Facebook’s business model of surveillance capitalism. As I and others have noted for a long time, Facebook’s users are the product being sold. And when you spend all day peddling people’s lives to the highest bidder, it must be easy to lose sight of the humanity that used to underlie your product.
How else to explain how Facebook could twice label snuff films as “content?”
This Is Facebook’s Modern World
Depraved incidents like the ones mentioned above and other violent acts that have been posted to social media or streamed live are going to happen. I don’t envy Facebook’s task of handling such problems, but I strongly condemn the attitude and outlook that views the problem as a “content” problem.
By viewing it as one, Facebook is part of the problem. The company should examine its priorities and attitudes and come to grips with the humanity behind the problem. And after a lot of soul searching, Facebook should apologize for calling these videos “content,” and find a more responsible—and less disgusting—way to discuss it.
Jeff Gamet and I discussed this issue on episode 408 of The Apple Context Machine.