Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

Ulster student takes on might of Facebook over decapitation videos

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A student has told of how he took on the might of Facebook after being horrified when it refused to remove a video of a woman being decapitated.

University of Ulster student Ryan Lasmali is the man who sparked an on-line debate after he flagged up the macabre material being posted on Facebook.

But the Coleraine student was left outraged when the social network told him the footage didn’t violate its graphic violence standards.

After Ryan highlighted the response, a number of child-protection charities called on Facebook to reconsider their stance of the material stating it could cause long-term psychological damage.

Facebook has now decided to remove the controversial material.

The 22-year-old, who studies finance and investment, spotted one of the clips when it appeared on his friends’ news feeds.

The student, who is currently on placement in Germany, said he was unaware of its contents as it didn’t give a description but was left disturbed once he realised the nature of the video.

The one-minute long video was uploaded to the social networking site last week showing the woman being beheaded by a masked man.

A second video clip showing the execution of two men has also been shared on the network after being posted last Wednesday. The victims say they are drug smugglers for a Mexican cartel before being attacked with a chainsaw and knife.

Facebook’s original stance over the issue was berated by Ryan who said that the images were “abnormal”.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph he said: “When I saw it was decapitation I was shocked and disturbed by what I saw and I couldn’t believe it was allowed to be posted on Facebook.

"I reported it to the site and the PSNI but the response from Facebook said it was within the graphic violence limits, but what could be more gruesome than what was shown on the video?

“I have smaller brothers so it shocked me this was on a social media site that young kids can see.

“Lots of different videos are posted on Facebook and it has the power to make things like that become normal by distributing through news feed.

"In the case of a horror film parents have choice about what their children look at but on Facebook they have all the power and nothing can stop them.”

Ryan stressed the decision to remove the videos was “nothing to do with freedom of speech”.

“The people in the video were denied the freedom to live,” he added.

After Ryan, who was born in Germany and moved to Northern Ireland in 2005, flagged the material with the site as being inappropriate, he was sent the following reply.

“Thanks for your report. We reviewed the video you reported, but found it doesn't violate Facebook's Community Standard on graphic violence, which includes depicting harm to someone or something, threats to the public's safety, or theft and vandalism.”

Facebook has been embroiled in controversy a number of times over their refusal to take down content which users have deemed offensive and rude. A number of online petitions has been set up to block such pages, however a site that jokes about rape which has attracted thousands of likes is still available to view.

On Facebook’s statement of rights and responsibilities it says: “You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”

A row erupted last year after Facebook banned pictures posted on its site by breastfeeding mothers. In reaction to the outrage over Facebook’s decision to bar the images a spokesman for the company said: “Whether it's obscene, art or a natural act — we'd rather just leave it at nudity and draw the line there.”

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