Thu, 21 July 2016
Should children be exposed to graphic violence on Facebook without your knowledge and consent? Is it a widely-available broadcast channel like TV that should be regulated, or is it something different? The social web has created amazing opportunities to learn, discover, connect, and have fun. But with the advent of innovations like live streaming video, horrifying images of terror and violence are becoming a more common staple of our news feed. Facebook's "terror policy" is pretty weak. In fact, it has proclaimed boldly that any live stream -- no matter how controversial or ghastly -- is welcome on its live video platform unless the violent act is celebrated. So, for example, if a hostage is live-streaming a beheading, that's deemed appropriate content for a Facebook live stream. If a hostage live-streams a beheading and says, "The infidel got what he deserved," it would be deleted by Facebook because it glorifies or celebrates violence. The violent act itself is OK ... it's the intent of the person filming that determines whether it is appropriate for public consumption or not. Kind of a weird line, but that's the Facebook guideline right now. As of this moment, there is no way parents can absolutely guarantee that their children will not be exposed to horrific images on Facebook, not through Facebook or any third party app. Even if Facebook tweaks its algorithm to be age-sensitive, these videos could be seen through a share, by viewing another timeline, or by searching for the content. Shouldn't we have a right to NOT see horror?
Should Facebook be regulated?
In the United States, there are regulations in place to keep obscene, profane, and violent content away from children on radio and television. Cable channels and subscription radio are not covered under these regulations because they're considered "subscriptions." Since there is so much free "cable" video streaming around on apps these days, you might debate whether some of the regulations are dated or not, but clearly the government has a regulatory intent to protect citizens from content that is obscene or violent. There is no reliable filter in place to moderate violent content on Facebook -- wouldn't the government intent extend to this channel too? Facebook might argue that a person has to opt-in to its service, like subscription television channels (although it's free). So it is more like a cable channel than a network broadcaster. But isn't opting into Facebook similar to opting in to owning a radio or television? There are no ongoing subscription fees or commitments. The government recently ruled that the Internet is a "utility" like water or electricity. It is essential to modern life, not an optional subscription service. Should Facebook be regulated? It's a delicate issue, but make no mistake, this IS an issue. Or, is it?
Where is the debate?
What shocks me is that as I researched this topic, there is no discernible national debate on whether Facebook should be regulated like other broadcasting services. I found a few blog posts in 2010 on Facebook and regulation. A number of articles were written recently when it leaked that Facebook had a liberal bias and a very loose process to manage its trending news feed. But Zuckerberg addressed this bias issue through a meeting with conservative leaders and the topic has gone away. However, violence in our news streams is just beginning. Live streaming is a relatively new innovation. And there is no fool-proof safeguard to keep horrific content away from the eyes of children. Shouldn't this be a topic of national discussion? Can't we expect some option that gives parents the right to keep horrific content away from their children? This is important. Let the debate begin here, on The Marketing Companion podcast. In our latest episode, Tom Webster and I tackle this head-on. We also offer a different slant on the Pokemon craze and disclose new research that signals real trouble for the television industry. And, we reveal the 2016 edition of The World's Worst Apps that help you with everything from poop to passion. Ready for this?
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