Was Twitter right to remove the beheading video of James Foley?

Photojournalist James Foley was beheaded by ISIS on camera in 2014.The video rapidly spread out across media platforms — including Twitter — by that instigating fierce dispute about how moral it is to share the terrorist militants’ ruthless slaughter of a man.

There is a very thin line separating the freedom of speech from social responsibility when it comes to media ethics. The Twitter population went fanatic over the posting of the graphic video showing the beheading of Foley. Long term implications of taking the decision to keep the video lean towards violating social responsibility rather than fulfilling the public’s right to know. That’s why, Twitter’s choice to take down the video — as per Foley’s family’s request — was able to put an end to the internet users’ uproar regarding this issue.

Nevertheless, this choice engendered heated debates in relation to allowing free access as well as free speech to all users on the one hand, outlining Twitter’s editorial rights and duties, and defying budding terror.

Based on their website, Twitter is a worldwide network that allows users to instantly devise and diffuse information and ideas without barriers. Furthermore, Twitter has specific rules under which it operates in order to ensure users’ safety and to provide them with the ultimate experience.

Related to Foley’s case are rules linked to graphic content:

Failing to abide by the rules that Twitter sets out causes either temporary or permanent locking or suspension of accounts. This is precisely what Twitter chief executive Costolo emphasized was being done, “We have been and are actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to graphic imagery.”

Some argue that having the video up on twitter and keeping it is the right decision because having minimal interaction with it would undermine the terror that ISIS was trying to spread. But how is that right? How is not interacting with a video so important? Rather than keeping the video up on Twitter, taking it down would make a stronger statement because it would somehow erase the terror by making it disappear and preventing it from dispersing. Even if people already know it’s out there and that some have already viewed the bloody beheading, removing the video from a platform as widespread as Twitter would do more good than it would harm.

Having the video of Foley’s beheading with few views and few retweets wouldn’t really mark a stance in the face of the prospective spread of fear by ISIS. Furthermore, keeping the video on Twitter allows for its content to be shared. By that, the terrorists would attain the publicity they seek — with the help of Twitter users. That raises the next important point related to this matter: spreading the video enhances its propagandistic value.

While considering other possible alternatives, it is necessary to suggest that the video shouldn’t have been put up on Twitter to begin with. Since it did get published, the balanced decision that would both protect the public’s right to know as well as limit unnecessary harm would be extracting the video from Twitter and maybe starting a campaign against terror attacks and militants trying to elicit fear and panic. A good example would be the media blackout initiated by proactive Syrian Hend Amry to avoid permitting a man’s slaughter to turn into a Twitter trend through the hashtag #ISISmediaBlackout.

Although it is probable that many people who watch the video would sympathize with Foley and would demand the ban of the video, other viewers of the video might get brainwashed or even desensitized. According to Bryant and Miron, desensitization is the “habituation to stimuli that initially appeared to signal danger due to repeated exposure causing a reduction in emotional responsiveness with respect to real-life stimuli” (Bryant & Miron, 2003, pp. 445–446). So providing graphic content on Twitter could possibly increase the risk of familiarizing viewers with violent content which in turn could enforce ISIS and accomplish their murderous goals.

Spreading graphic videos gives ISIS power and credibility, but not showing them somehow hides the truth. Hence, the moderate solution would be to show the impact of their brutality by being careful no to serve them. In which case tweeting — in writing — about the beheading would have sufficed.

Tell the story, don’t show it. Pray for victims, don’t expose them.

James Foley was a dedicated journalist who risked — and then unfortunately lost — his life while trying to shed the light on the misfortunes taking place in Syria. Is it right to make the dreadful torture he was put through public? Is this how a decent hardworking man should be remembered? It would probably be better, more just, and more empathetic to remember him for the good man that he was. Choosing to respect the deceased would beat any other alternative in such a heart-breaking situation. To limit the aimed influence of ISIS outweighs the ‘free speech’ that all users are entitled to.

Source List:

Bryant, J., & Miron, D. (2003). The Appeal and Impact of Media Sex and Violence. In A companion to Media Studies (pp. 437–460). Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Parkinson, H. J. (2014, August 20). James Foley: How social media is fighting back against Isis propaganda. Retrieved September 13, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/20/james-foley-how-social-media-is-fighting-back-against-isis-propaganda

Stelter, B. (2014, August 21). James Foley beheading video: Would you watch it? Retrieved September 10, 2017, from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/20/us/isis-beheading-social-media/

The Twitter Rules | Twitter Help Center. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2017, from https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311

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