Last week, several “cat-punching” Facebook pages appeared on the site that depicted or encouraged abusing the animal. Facebook originally told USA Today that it would not remove the pages, but it quickly reversed course and then took them down after facing a harsh outcry from the public, including a petition that garnered over 30,000 signatures.
The pages featured images of people pretending to hit cats, and also some grisly images and videos of dead cats. Michael Ruzza, the man who created the first petition against the pages, said he was inspired to act after his daughter showed it to him and he saw a video of a small animal being lit on fire and running around a yard.
While this kind of blatantly abusive video would seem to be illegal, it’s actually protected by the First Amendment; in 2010, the Supreme Court shot down a law that would have banned videos of animal cruelty.
“Facebook can allow anything to be posted so long as it’s legal,” lawyer John Watson told USA Today. “It’s a free speech issue but then there is the issue of responsible free speech. The simple fact the law protects you doesn’t mean you should allow it and I’m sure Facebook is getting a lot of push back from people.”
Indeed, that gets at the heart of Facebook’s issue with privacy and censorship. What is the site’s obligation to its users to protect them from violent content? And how does the site decide what it does and doesn’t take down?