26 Apr 2013

Let’s beat up a baby

Alex Mahdjoubi was just checking in on Facebook, as you do, no big deal.

On his wall a new video had been posted by a friend. It had likes. Lots of likes. Thousands of likes.

It begins with a baby, in the corner of the room. The baby is lying down. Crying.
Suddenly a woman, far-eastern in appearance, slams a pillow full force down on the baby’s head with all her strength. It’s from way over her head.

And again.

And again.

The baby wails, squirms, kicks out pathetically, utterly defenceless.

Then the blunt instruments come out, as the police say. The baby is assaulted over and over again, struck with objects like a mobile phone and a cigarette lighter.

In 20 odd years on the road with ITN covering wars I’ve been present at things nobody should ever see. Many things. Things that should never happen.

But even seeing just the video of this remorseless assault upon a baby, pitilessly filmed by another person, fills you with a mixture of rage, despair, pure stunned incomprehension.

Alex Mahdjoubi stopped watching it. Couldn’t watch it.

Like many before he realised at once that having “friends” you barely know might not be the best Facebook approach. But hey – hardly a cardinal sin. And he took action.

One – unfriend the “friend”.

Two – delete the video.

Three – apologise to any real friends who may have seen it.

Four – alert NSPCC, internet watchdogs, etc.

One to four Alex Mahdjoubi did, and did it PDQ as you can well imagine.

So then to Five – equally obvious – get Facebook to delete material depicting the serious crime of violent assault on a baby.

You may think Five as easy as steps One to Four. You’d be wrong.

Facebook contacted Alex, refusing to take down the material saying:

“We carefully reviewed the video you reported, but found it doesn’t violate our community standard on graphic violence so we didn’t remove it”.

Facebook’s guidelines state: “Sharing any graphic content for sadistic pleasure is prohibited”.

He tried again but there was nothing doing. He had hit a brick wall and simply could not believe it.

Ceop – the police agency working against online child abuse – told him they too had approached Facebook saying:

“We have also asked Facebook to removed the video. Unfortunately, it is their view that people are sharing the video to condemn it, and as such they believe it is productive and should not be censored. As we cannot compel Facebook to remove the video, there is little we can do, apart from asking people not to share, like or repost the video.”

Still, no action. A Ceop press officer told Channel 4 News yesterday that they had faith in Facebook’s own internal policing of material and enjoyed a good working relationship with the social media behemoth.

Well – perhaps. But they clearly had no effect as a watchdog in this particular case. The video stayed up there, gathering likes (yes, I know…) as it did so. Facebook were content for it to be there.

This, the very same Facebook who recently issued a statement saying:

” We…are extremely aggressive in preventing and removing child exploitative content.”

Last night Channel 4 News approached Facebook informing them that we will be running this story tonight.

And whaddya know?

Overnight Facebook took the video down, telling Channel 4 News:

“We’ve unpublished the page below for being in breach of our rules.”*

So why does it take a complaint from a major media organisation to make Facebook wake up and smell the coffee? Why did they not act when CEOP were contacted?

Most of all why on earth didn’t they take down the video when Alex Mahdjoubi (and no doubt many others) told Facebook what was happening?

And there’s no cop-out here for the free-speech, censoring-the-net narrative.

Facebook says it’s against child abuse. Fine. But you can’t tolerate this video and be against child abuse. If Facebook were a libertarian anti-censorship outfit there’d be no problem – anything goes.

But they say they are not. I say they fell asleep on the job.

And the baby? All is well, safe now and healthy. The perpetrators of this horrifying episode of abuse which happened in Malaysia in 2011 – prosecuted and convicted.

Now it’s for Facebook to get their house in order and practice what they preach.

*UPDATE 3.30pm:

Facebook have now told Channel 4 News they will reinstate the page containing the baby-beating video. The company said  that it doesn’t think the video itself breaches its rules on graphic content. The reason the page was taken down was because Facebook could not confirm its owner’s identity. The owner has now done this, and so the page will be put back online.

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