How social media handles censorship and graphic content

Published: March 31, 2022 4:56 PM EDT
Updated: March 31, 2022 6:39 PM EDT

A video on social media that showed a 14-year-old falling from an Orlando ride is still up. But how can that be if politicians get in trouble for social media posts?

Right now, there is no law or regulation prohibiting people from posting that video on Facebook or Twitter. Of course, sometimes there will be a label saying that the video is graphic but displaying those is up to the platform.

As for the teen’s father, he found out about his son’s death on social media before law enforcement informed him.

That video of a 14-year-old falling more than 400 feet to his death is not something that WINK News would ever show, but social media has a different story. It has been plastered across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

Alan Crowetz is a cybersecurity and internet expert. “So what do you do when a private company owns something that the majority of people in the country use on a daily basis?” Crowetz said.

For you and I, there isn’t much that can be done. You can file a complaint but that’s no guarantee that the video will be taken down. Social media companies are not like TV stations that must follow certain rules.

“I’m sure the companies have some internal documentation. What do we block? What do we allow? Who do we censor? And who do we not?” said Crowetz.

They have different protections under the law. Andrew Selepak is a social media professor at the University of Florida. “Section 230, essentially says that social media companies and internet companies, they are platforms, not publishers,” Selepak said.

“So it kind of gives them a free rein in terms of allowing whatever they want on their platforms, or whatever they don’t want on their platforms,” said Selepak.

So, he mentioned, “who do we censor?” We all know that Twitter banned President Trump. And, we know that Facebook flags things it deems COVID-19 misinformation.

But, the video of Tyre Sampson’s death is easily accessible. While some did have that warning label, others did not.

One comment expressed outrage about the video even being posted to begin with. “What gives you the right to post a video of a minor dying? Do you think his family would want to see this?”

A Facebook post defending the video said, in part, that without the world being able to see it, “Here may not be any proof that this was complete negligence.” And, Facebook policy itself says, “We allow graphic content (with some limitations) to help people raise awareness about these issues.”

As for Twitter, there are some types of sensitive media it doesn’t allow at all including violent crimes or accidents.

“But if you think about a platform like Facebook, or Tik Tok or Instagram, it will be absolutely impossible for them to be able to determine every piece of content, if any of that those pieces of content violate their terms of service. What the platform’s kind of do instead is a lot leave it up to the users for them to report content,” Selepak said.

“So they’re constantly trying to balance this act between getting information out there, allowing people the freedom to share things, and doing the right thing what’s not ethically correct or morally correct. You know, it’s a tricky balance,” Crowetz said.

How companies like Twitter and Facebook handle that tricky balance isn’t shared with the public. Representatives with Twitter wouldn’t respond to a WINK News inquiry. A Facebook spokesperson responded and asked for specific examples of the video on its platform. When WINK News reporter Dannielle Garcia sent them examples, they never got back to her.