The Situation Room – Parents, be on guard for violent & graphic social media content

Mac Olsen
A recent murder in the U.S., which was posted on Facebook, should have parents concerned and vigilant about the content their children see on social media.

Steven Stephens was accused of murdering Robert Godwin Sr. in Cleveland, Ohio a couple of weeks ago. He was supposed to have made a video of the murder and uploaded it to Facebook.

On April 18, following a chase by the Pennsylvania State Police, Stephens committed suicide as he was about to be apprehended. Facebook’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, issued a statement saying:

“We have a lot more to do here,” he said. “We’re reminded of this week by the tragedy in Cleveland. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Godwin Sr., and we have a lot more work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”

While Zuckerberg can try to distance his social media organization from what happened and make pronouncements about the need to keep such graphic content off social media, I have seen several instances where his words haven’t resulted in corrective action.

One such incident was a graphic video of injured and dead civilians in the Syrian gas attacks posted on Facebook. I sent a request for its removal but got no response.

The tool that Facebook uses is what they call their ‘sensitive content’ system, whereby a black screen appears over the video or photo content and a warning is issued.

However, that “tool” is not adequate under any circumstances because it does not catch all instances of graphic and violent content being posted.

The video of the Syrian gas attacks was posted more than once on Facebook and in all cases that I saw of it, never was the ‘sensitive content’ system applied.

Blame also goes to the people who posted those videos on Facebook. They showed no consideration for the trauma that some people could or did suffer from seeing them.

I remember watching a documentary series about the First World War on TV. One episode highlighted the sinking of the Lusitania and several people holding a dead child’s body for a photo, to exploit their death for propaganda purposes. That exploitation was unconscionable and posting videos of dead and dying Syrian civilians on social media is no different.

Then there was the terrorist attack in Nice, France on July 14, 2016. Again, videos showing the dead and dying were posted on Facebook and the ‘sensitive content’ system did not catch those videos either.

Imagine an eight-year-old child seeing these widely circulated graphic and very disturbing videos on their Facebook page. And imagine that child being so upset and unable to sleep because of the nightmares that result. Now more than ever, that’s why it’s important for parents to monitor their children’s social media habits.

What it amounts to is, Zuckerberg and his company – which is a lesson all other social media organizations to consider as well – must do much more to screen the content that goes on their site.

That means eliminating the ‘sensitive content’ system and ensuring all graphic content isn’t published.

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