This week, thousands of Facebook users were shocked by real-life graphic videos showing three people beheaded with a chainsaw. Graphic violence is not new to Facebook and other social media sites, but users rely on site administrators to remove this type of content as soon as it's reported. But that didn't happen.
In fact, Facebook initially refused to remove the videos, telling the BBC that its approach is to "preserve people's rights to describe, depict and comment on the world in which we live." Facebook later took down the videos.
Most people agree that this type of content does not belong on Facebook, alongside pictures of birthday cakes and new puppies. But unless Facebook tightens its policies, users are likely to run across disturbing images.
A browser plug-in offers a simple solution. Unwhatever.me, a plug-in for Chrome, lets users identify the types of content they don't want to see on Facebook and replace it with the kind of images they like, such as grumpy cats or puffy clouds.
Unwhatever.me is the latest app in a long line from Chris Baker, the co-creator of Unbaby.me, Unfoodpic.me, Ungod.me and others. While he hadn't considered an "Ungore.me" option, he told TechNewsDaily Unwhatever.me would do the job.
The plug-in works by looking for specified words attached to a piece of content, including photos , videos, titles and comments. You put in keywords associated with stuff you don't want to see and then choose what type of images you'd like to see instead. Photo and video headlines are replaced with a notification: "Whatever removed." However, users can still see the original post by clicking "undo." The idea is to prevent a shock, but if you choose to take a peek, it's at your own risk.
We asked Baker what keywords would be the most effective in blocking gory images.
"I think the most obvious is ‘NSFW,’" Baker said, referring to the abbreviation for "not safe for work." "Most Internet users are pretty good about warning others." "NSFL," a term used by Redditors to mean "not safe for life," would be a useful phrase as well. [See also: TIL: A Reddit Dictionary ]
Baker said he spent a lot of time monitoring Twitter and Facebook when developing his other apps and discovered people use the same phrases over and over again when writing descriptions to accompany their posts. He recommended adding the phrases "I did not need to see this" and "I wish I never saw that," along with descriptive words, such as "gross."
New app coming to mobile
But filtering gory content on the computers alone won't be sufficient. Baker and his team are preparing to release a mobile app called Rather, as in "I'd rather see this than that." Rather will work its magic on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
"Rather will block everything from promoted tweets and Facebook ads to NSFW content," he said.
As with the Chrome plug-ins, Rather will offer a default menu of what content to replace, as well as provide the option to add your own keywords and phrases. Replacement options will come with prebuilt options, such as cats and clouds — subjects that will satisfy 99 percent of users, Baker said. But those who want something else will be able to add photo feeds from Instagram and Reddit.
But here's the catch: To use Rather, you'll have to utilize the Web versions of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — and forego the apps.
"That's the one sacrifice you'll have to make," Baker said. But it may be a small price to pay to avoiding images that can leave a lasting — and disturbing — impression.
Rather will be available in the Apple App Store in about a month. Baker said he hasn't yet set pricing, but it will be cheap — either $0.99 or $1.99. If it’s successful, an Android app will soon follow. In the meantime, you can sign up to receive an alert when the app becomes available on unwhatever.me.