How should media cover American beheading

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A video released by ISIS shows the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who disappeared in November 2012 in Syria.

(CNN) — When confronted by gruesome images of a man being beheaded by terrorists, what should you do?

News organizations have grappled with these kinds of questions for decades.

Now, with the prevalence of social media, website operators and ordinary Internet users face the same question.

On Tuesday, when ISIS published a video showing the murder of American journalist James Foley, most Western news outlets shunned the goriest portion of the video but chose to show still photos from the minutes before the beheading.

Some commenters urged news outlets to exercise even more restraint and refrain from using the photos at all.

That same dynamic played out on Twitter and Facebook, as well. As some users shared photos and links to the video, others exhorted them to share earlier photos of Foley’s life and links to examples of his reporting instead. It was almost as if users were collectively developing their own sets of standards.

Kelly Foley, a cousin of the slain journalist, wrote on Twitter Tuesday night, “Don’t watch the video. Don’t share it. That’s not how life should be.”

YouTube removes video

The slickly-produced, high-definition video was originally uploaded to YouTube, but was taken off the site within a matter of hours. YouTube also sought to take down duplicates whenever they were posted.

A YouTube representative said the site, owned by Google, has “clear policies that prohibit content like gratuitous violence, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts, and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged by our users.”

“We also terminate any account registered by a member of a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and used in an official capacity to further its interests,” the representative added.

Twitter suspends accounts

Twitter faced similar issues on Tuesday — and a tremendous amount of pressure from its users about the balancing act between freedom of expression and basic human decency.

“We have been and are actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery,” Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo wrote in an early Wednesday morning post on the site.

It all amounted to a particularly grotesque version of whack-a-mole. At one point Tuesday evening, simply tweeting the word “beheading” resulted in replies from spam accounts that attached a photo of Foley’s severed head.

Twitter briefly suspended the account of a journalist who shared photos of the beheading, but reinstated it later.

CNN is not airing the video on television or online, but is showing stills from the minutes before the beheading. The tabloid New York Post newspaper decided to go further, publishing on its front page a frame from the video that shows a terrorist beginning to cut into Foley’s head. The newspaper headline says “SAVAGES.”

Some Internet users subsequently suggested that the Post’s Twitter account should be suspended, too.


  • Christine

    My heart goes out to family of this courageous young man. When I think of this event, I am reminded of September 11. People became united. But I am afraid that some of the politicians are going to make the situation worse.

  • Hooligan

    cowards covering for these savages by not showing these beheadings that occurred since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq…the irony is too thick….watching the media you would think the greatest war atrocities were commited in gitmo when terrorists were forced to form naked pyramids….this country is doomed b/c of cowardly people that refuse to stand up to evil in our time…

  • Iaminfidelnumber1

    It’s far past time for the world’s major powers to eliminate these beasts. A coalition needs to be formed to include, at a minimum, the United States, Russia, China, India, UK, France, Germany, as well as other interested nations, to exterminate radical islam wherever it sticks its ugly head out.

    No quarter, no prisoners, … just eradicate it wherever it is. Every country mentioned above is experiencing outrageous terrorist acts of unbelievable brutality and savagery.

    This radical islam is like a cancer in the human population and must be destroyed.

    • Thomas H. Evans

      So do you believe the same should happen here in the United States where we have “Gangs” terrorizing our communities just like they do over there; yet I don’t hear anyone calling for the elimination of these thugs. I truly believe we should stop trying to clean up everybody else’s back yard until we clean up ours here at home. Until we can feel safe again in our own country, I say let them kill each other in these countries where they have been fighting for years. Perhaps once they learn the other countries who have been coming to their aide for years are no longer willing to send their young people into battle to settle a score that has no end. What about the Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Grape Street, etc. creating chaos in our communities daily? Wipe out ISIS, and then lets bring the fight home.

      • Iaminfidelnumber1

        Hey, … the fight at home can be won anytime your judges and DA’s decide to get tough and quit handing out wrist slaps ans dropped / reduced charges foe serious violent crimes. They won’t do it.
        Those vicious musloid savages could be reduced to dust in short order with a bit of International cooperation.

      • snowchimpwhitestink

        Oh sthu, if you whites stop messing around in other ppls affairs this would not happen just as the cia created al-qaeda they created isis has nothing to do with religion all about cash so what the snow chimp got killed just one aganist all the millions you have no person of colour should fight for you fools send your ayran brotherhood let them go not us

      • snowchimpwhitestink

        Oh sthu, if you whites stop messing around in other ppls affairs this would not happen just as the cia created al-qaeda they created isis has nothing to do with religion all about cash so what the snow chimp got killed just one aganist all the millions you have killed u racists made the mess u clean it up thats not a black or latino problem or even asian

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