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Gruesome Syrian beheading photos spark calls for new Facebook censorship controls

Facebook’s own safety advisers are calling for new controls to be put in place that prevent gruesome images appearing on the social network after harrowing images appeared on one page in particular.

The new move is being proposed by Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the US Family Online Institute [Fosi], at the next meeting of Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board after images of severed heads appeared on the social network courtesy of the Islamic State [IS].

"There may be instances in which graphic photos and videos, like the beheadings in Syria, can be justified as being in the public interest," he explained to the BBC. "However, if they are hosted on Facebook or other social media platforms, there should be two barriers put in place.

Balkam went on to recommend that the first barrier should be an interstitial or cover page of the graphic images to prevent users, particularly children, from seeing the images on their timeline.

Secondly there should be an “age gate” that asks users to confirm they are 18 years of age and although Balkam admitted this is easy to surpass, “it does at least warn the user and may well deter both kids and adults alike."

The latest controversy came after The Raqqa Media Center [RMC], which operates in an IS-controlled part of Syria, posted photos of severed heads to its Facebook page that were readily available until Facebook closed the page last week.

Facebook’s rules on the sharing of graphic content ban anything distributed to gain sadistic pleasure, however, using images to condone violence or highlight an important issue are permitted.

"We expect people that want to use Facebook to condemn or report on violence, to do so in a responsible manner, which may include warning people about the nature of content in the videos and imagery they're sharing and carefully selecting the audience for the content,” a spokesperson told the BBC. "Our goal is to strike a balance between allowing people to comment on the often brutal world around them, whilst protecting people from the most graphic of content."

Related: Diaspora decentralised social network cannot prevent Islamic State extremist posts

Twitter has already suspended RMC’s account and no YouTube videos have been posted since July and there’s now every chance that RMC could find a place on Diaspora’s decentralised social network alongside IS supporters and fighters.