Social Media Companies Struggle To Contain Violent, Graphic Postings The shootings at mosques in New Zealand were livestreamed on Facebook and shared on YouTube and Twitter. The companies have been challenged on their ability to remove this kind of content quickly.
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Social Media Companies Struggle To Pull Livestreamed Video Of Mass Shootings

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Social Media Companies Struggle To Pull Livestreamed Video Of Mass Shootings

Social Media Companies Struggle To Pull Livestreamed Video Of Mass Shootings

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The alleged gunman streamed his attack live on Facebook. Then the video went viral. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are still scrambling to take it down. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has been digging into that aspect of the story.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The alleged shooter seems to have first advertised the attack on the online forum 8chan, a message board known for right-wing extremist users. He included a link to a Facebook account. That Facebook account is where a 17-minute long video was livestreamed in real-time. The video starts behind the wheel of a car. It appears to come from a body-mounted camera. He pulls up to Al Noor Mosque. That was one of the two mosques that were attacked.

And what comes next is sheer horror. He starts shooting worshippers - at one point, going back to his car for another gun. Then he proceeds to shoot people at short range. Facebook took down the video after it happened, but it was too late. It had already gone viral on YouTube and Twitter. The social media platforms had lost control. And this raises a lot of questions about live broadcasting.

ALEX LONDON: When your point is to strike fear into the hearts of people, livestreaming allows you to broadcast your message much farther.

GARSD: Professor Alex London teaches ethics and philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University. He says horrific events like the one in New Zealand go viral using livestreaming technology. But that technology also allows people to call out things like police brutality. He says it used to be that...

LONDON: When people would say, you know, the government is perpetrating acts of violence or the police were abusive, you'd have to believe their testimony.

GARSD: Perhaps that's why when Philando Castile was shot by a Minnesota police officer, his girlfriend's first instinct was to start broadcasting live. That went viral, causing national outrage.

LONDON: It gives people a much better sense of, you know, of the event and the event in real time.

GARSD: But as much as livestreaming can document brutality, it can also make atrocities go viral and impossible to control, like in the New Zealand shooting. In the last year, Facebook has come under intense scrutiny over allowing hate groups on its platform. Recently, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was adding more moderators to crack down on disturbing content. Katie Moussouris is a cybersecurity expert, and she says perhaps we should consider the possibility that not everyone should be able to livestream.

KATIE MOUSSOURIS: It's not a bad idea to potentially have only specific verified accounts allowed to post. And if something that they post that is livestreamed does contain violence or hate speech, that that privilege goes away.

GARSD: But she understands that's going to cause a lot of controversy about who is allowed freedom of speech.

AL TOMPKINS: Look, here's the thing about free speech and free expression. It's a messy proposition. And there's always going to be abuse.

GARSD: Al Tompkins is a senior faculty at the Poynter Institute. He teaches ethics.

TOMPKINS: It's true offline. It's true online. And if you intend to give people the ability to communicate freely with each other, it's going to be messy. And some people are going to abuse it, but most people won't.

GARSD: Twitter and YouTube have both condemned the attacks and said they are working to bring down any video of the shooting. Facebook said in a statement it moved quickly to take down the shooter's Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video. It also said it is, quote, "removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters." Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York.

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