David Cameron has labelled Facebook as “irresponsible” for lifting a ban on videos of beheadings being posted on its site.
The Prime Minister said the social network must explain to “worried parents” its decision to allow images showing decapitations.
Facebook indicated it could introduce warnings for viewers about graphic content but insisted the website should be a place where people could share their experiences about controversial events.
Mr Cameron wrote on Twitter: “It’s irresponsible of Facebook to post beheading videos, especially without a warning. They must explain their actions to worried parents.”
Shadow crime and security minister Diana Johnson joined the condemnation, saying: “It is entirely unacceptable for Facebook to be hosting these disgraceful videos.
“Not only do they glorify violence, but they will be horrifying to people who accidentally view them. It is especially worrying to see Facebook allowing this content, given the huge number of children who are regular users. They should remove it now.
“Labour has consistently been calling for social media sites to take responsibility for the content they host.”
Facebook introduced a temporary ban on such videos in May but has since decided to remove the block on the grounds that the site is used to share information about world events.
A spokeswoman for the website said: “Facebook has long been a place where people turn to share their experiences, particularly when they’re connected to controversial events on the ground, such as human rights abuses, acts of terrorism and other violent events.
“People are sharing this video on Facebook to condemn it. If the video were being celebrated, or the actions in it encouraged, our approach would be different. However, since some people object to graphic video of this nature, we are working to give people additional control over the content they see. This may include warning them in advance that the image they are about to see contains graphic content.”
However, Stephen Balkam, a member of Facebook’s safety advisory board, urged the firm to rethink the change in its policy.
He said: “They have some very strict rules about nudity, about sex and even about violence too.
“I just think in this case they really need to rethink how they use and how they adopt their own policies.”
Dr John Baptista, associate professor of information systems at Warwick Business School, said: “It is impossible to create rules for everything on the web, so I mostly believe in self-regulation based on common sense and guiding principles.
“However, in this case sadly I think Facebook is late in responding to feedback and it is very disappointing to see them not being proactive in addressing a serious issue such as this.
“I hope they do take the feedback seriously and respond positively.”
Sean Gallagher, of free speech pressure group Index on Censorship, said: “The decision to show beheadings is part of a much wider debate on whether companies like Facebook should moderate the content they host.
“With over a billion users worldwide, Facebook’s decisions about what can and can’t be shown have a huge impact on global freedom of expression.
“Films about beheadings may be deeply upsetting and offensive but they do expose the reality of violent acts that are taking place in the world today. When trying to draw a line about what should or shouldn’t be allowed, it’s important to look at context, not just content.”