Dear Facebook, Snuff Films Aren’t ‘Content’

2 minute read
| Editorial

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.

Facebook Angry Emoji

Hint: I am very, very angry about this

The Background

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.

7 Comments Add a comment

  1. Bravo, Bryan. Equally concerning is the number of people wanting to watch this ‘content’. The abuse of social media has done a number on the human race. I am hoping good sense will prevail eventually, barring that, this is why regulation can be a necessity. In my opinion it should be just as illegal, and carrying the same penalties, for a facebook to host and distribute this sort of thing as it is for individuals. If they want to contest it, they can go to court like everyone else.

  2. Considering how long these things remained on FB after FB was alerted, and how slow FB was to address them in any substantive way, it is obvious that they do consider these things “content.” And this is just another part of why I closed my FB account. I still have a couple pages and a group I am forced to administer and monitor, but I do so with an account with no friends, and no content. I wish it were possible to avoid FB entirely, but so many people have become dependent on it, that even those of us who do not wish to, are forced into it.

    What I find really sad and scary at the same time, is that this sort of abominable activity is most likely going to increase, rather than decrease. We are back in the days of the Roman Colosseum and gladiators battling it out to the death, or worse, innocent people getting slaughtered simply for the amusement of others.

  3. Well said. I have a FB account, but only to track some theatre groups that don’t have their own web page. As JonGL above said, I have no personal data, accept no friend requests, and post nothing on my page. I wish I could just drop the whole thing, but it’s such a ubiquitous part of online presence it can’t be avoided. A century from now if you were to look up “soulless monster” up in whatever passes for a dictionary, you will see Marc Z and Facebook

  4. Bryan:

    This is a good and noble rant, and a rant worth worth having. The message is important.

    Taking a step back, it begs the question; why are we even having this discussion? We shouldn’t have to, except for one simple fact.

    FB, and not just FB, but corporations writ large, are not your friend. Anyone’s. Anywhere. Neither can they afford to be, given the cutthroat competitive environment in which they either live or die, nor should we expect them to be. That’s understood.

    But there is something different about, not just companies engaged in surveillance capitalism to use that phrase, but FB in particular. I would argue that the culture at FB sets it apart from even that epitome of all data hoovers, Google, and is the reason why it has struggled with this issue from the very beginning, including when the likes of ISIS and other nefarious groups began exploiting the site’s policy of not censoring content – until there was public outrage over postings of beheadings, burnings and crucifixions.

    FB appear to utterly lack respect, not simply for their clients whom they treat like chattel, but to hold humanity in contempt. This is a company that engaged in human subjects experimentation, without any form of institutional review, safety protocols or a data safety monitoring board (DSMB – a standard in human trials), any documented form of monitoring of subject welfare or outcome of the experiment, and most importantly, informed consent on the part of those upon FB experimented. Nor was there the faintest whiff of an appropriate apology once the experimentation was exposed, merely some babble about as lame and insulting as their current reference to these murder videos as ‘content’.

    This, as does all corporate culture, emanates from the top, and speaks volumes about FB’s CEO, and his inner circle.

    FB have never been held accountable, but they need to be; including their CEO who needs to be called out for his apparent callous disregard for human life. If he lacks the requisite empathy to deal with people in a way that respects their humanity, then he should hire a conscience, or appoint an ethical review board to vet the company’s actions before they are unleashed on an unwitting public.

    Until that happens, FB will have to accept that these outrageous postings will continue to damage the company’s image as both unprincipled and amoral.

    These postings are what they are, murder; and that they, FB, are aiding the intent of murderers who want to shock the public with their crimes by providing a platform for the widest possible audience. Without demonstrated contrition, as shown by granting their clients not simply a greater measure of control over their data and the terms and limits of that data’s use, but the content to which their clients may be unwittingly exposed, FB will be seen as little better than the criminals who exploit the company’s corporate culture.

  5. The writer has coined a new phrase that speaks volumes about our morality and our ability to survive, “surveillance capitalism” will bring our democracy to an end. FaceBook in it’s quest for ultimate profit has reduced the value of life to absolute zero. But they are not the only culprits. The user is equally as guilty using the service. If we don’t reset our priorities we will perish. Our society is so desensitized that we are walking a very fine line that will determine our future existence. I hope humans have what it takes to once again become a reasonable creature.

  6. Scott B in DC

    While I fundamentally agree that a someone should be held responsible for the content, does Facebook have to be the police? Sure they can determine what they allow on their systems, that is their right. But if you don’t want to see it don’t you have the option to go somewhere else?

    Although there are depraved people in this world, you do not have to participate. It reminds me of the battles started by Rev. Donald Wildmon first against George Carlin and later against Howard Stern. Wildmon’s arguments fell apart when it was pointed out to him that the radio had two knobs, one to change the station and the other to turn the thing off. In this case, you do not have to watch or acknowledge the video. Go to another site or get off the Internet and read a book.

    People do these things for the attention they receive. For some people, seeing the views, shares, likes, and mainstream media coverage pile up is their adrenaline rush. They get off on that. Look at the reaction of the Cleveland murderer. He was taunting people on Facebook looking for attention. If you stop giving these cretins the attention they crave, they will stop seeking it in these areas.

    We have become a society of moral outrage. We have to be outraged and those with a platform have to vent their outrage. Maybe, if we calmed the outrage and channeled it into something constructive we can find a solution without showing those who want to push your buttons the buttons they can push!

    (Flame away!)

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